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January 11, 2019

Falling growth in UK’s labour productivity means businesses must embrace automation

By Priya Kantaria

The efficiency of the UK workforce is falling and the message to business is to embrace technology and retain the best employees.

The productivity growth of UK workers fell to a two-year low in the third quarter of 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Annual growth in economic output per hour of work fell by 0.4% from July to September 2018 compared with the previous quarter.

The ONS said this reflected an increase in the number of hours worked against the output growth, which shows a fall in efficiency.

It also said that countries with good growth in labour productivity tend to benefit from high rates of growth and low inflation.

ONS productivity

Credit: ONS

Business must embrace technology

Neil Pickering, industry and customer insights manager at Kronos Incorporated, said: “The fact of the matter is UK businesses can no longer accept being average. Those who think they can will no longer be around. UK organisations need to focus on driving higher productivity.

“If organisations can embrace technology, including AI, they will flourish and will be able to retain high-value workers, which is essential in today’s job climate. Many will struggle as employees move to the organisations who demonstrate stronger prospects and a higher desire to win.”

Automation and investment in workforce

Pickering continued: “Further automation of processes will be essential. In addition to investing in capital equipment, organisations must put even greater focus on investing in their workforce too, as they will rely on their people to provide skills, flexibility, creativity, service and empathy – all of which are hard to program in a robot.

“Leveraging workforce technology can free up managers from admin-heavy tasks – like managing schedules, approving time-off requests, and shift changes – and allow them to be more present to mentor their teams and steer the ship. This investment can also provide real-time data to execs to enable them to make timely, accurate, and company-specific decisions. Employees will be empowered to self-serve and manage their working lives, creating workplace harmony and inspiring greater performance. All of these things will be important.”

Soft skills are important, not IT skills

Shea Gopaul, executive director of the Global Apprenticeship Network (GAN), remarked on the high unemployment in France versus the high number of jobs available where employers cannot find workers with the right skills.

In a survey GAN expected most employers to say they required technical skills, such as in IT.

“Ironically, the employers are saying what they need are the soft skills,” said Gopaul. “And I’m talking about collaboration, communication skills, working in teams, critical thinking, not just knowing your technical skills but how do you apply this never-ending change environment that we’re in. And lastly, creativity: to be able to think out of the box and to use some of those skills and adapt them to a new environment.”

An additional problem lies in the willingness of employers to reskill their employees.

President of the Canada Labour Congress Hassan Yussuff said: “What we are seeing to a large extent is while employers are complaining a lot about what workers don’t have, many of them are not investing their own dollars in trying to train their own people to ensure they have the skills necessary to adapt as their workplace continues to change.”

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