Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Is the use of innovative technology going too far? For over two centuries new technology has been introduced in the business world and workers have had to adapt their positions to accommodate the change. Now that change means Robotic Process Automation (RPA).  

The Industrial Revolution from 1760 precipitated many factory jobs to be mechanised. Yet, the long-term economic benefits and job creation in the UK overtook the short-term personal hardships of the workers.  Is this being repeated in the 21st century? Strides in automation over the past five years has meant that this job debate has been sparked again.

What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

Robotic Process Automation is software that is programmed to handle basic tasks which a human can complete. According to reports, this technology is gradually leaking into business, threatening jobs previously handled by human workers. Unlike the mechanisation in the 18th century, this digital technology could succeed an employee by being an enhancement of a human worker’s mind. Should we be encouraging young people to consider career options for safety purposes, and what are the moral issues surrounding this topic? 

According to Serviceteam IT’s Beyond the Cloud: UK Technology Research 2018, 45% of respondents were actively using or planning to deploy RPA. This survey included a wide range of industries from education to finance, government and defence to utilities, and charity to professional services. This suggests that robotics and automation are becoming the business norm across all economic sectors in the UK.  

A view from the private sector mentioned that RPA is not about job losses but changing what the jobs are. It is a process of redirecting jobs rather than stopping them completely. How should we deal with Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

Should we be changing the skills that we teach children in schools? If the nature of work is changing, then it seems reasonable to effectively train students for the future. 

Colin Jack, Care and Learning, Service Support and Information Manager at the Highland Council commented that he could see less need for finance specific roles as it becomes a part of the AI network. In his opinion, if there was a reduction in finance, HR and corporate roles, this would free up time to deliver the service specific goods to the public and create service specific job roles. His vision is to have remotely taught classes in The Scottish Highlands.

At the same time, there have been reports that the UK will wave goodbye to over 1 million trained professionals as an outcome of Brexit. When Britain finally leaves the EU there may be a larger skill shortage then the UK already experience. The Serviceteam IT research reported that 24% of business’ biggest concern is a skill shortage in the next 36 months. Redirecting jobs may be more efficient. However, what if this revolution is like the 18th century and new jobs are created? It seems this may not be an appropriate technology if the UK is set to see an abundant skill shortage.

The Head of Technical Services and Automation at an international Professional services company believes where people lose their jobs in terms of RPA altogether is ‘unattended execution’. The other way of thinking about RPA is ‘attended execution’ where it helps employees but doesn’t put them out of a job. For example, a customer service role where employees are wrestling with a whole lot of screens, RPA would focus on the screens, and the employee can focus on the customer. 

Does Robotic Process Automation (RPA) impact me?

Therefore, the impact of RPA in employment is ambiguous. However, we may not be seeing a Luddite resurrection just yet. Serviceteam IT’s survey also discovered that 70% of businesses do not believe or are unsure whether they have the skill set to deal with these emerging technologies. Although there may be future problems, it may be time to start to think about it today.  

To learn more about the survey and the results, please click here.

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