UK workers 'strongly in favour' of robots helping with staff shortages after Brexit

UK workers support robots helping with any potential staff shortages in a post-Brexit Britain. (Tobias Hase/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)

British workers are strongly in favour of turning to robots and automation as an “obvious solution” to any potential staff shortages after Brexit, a new report has found.

Some 68% of UK workers believe that the use of robots will be essential for the competitiveness of the country’s economy, and 74% said they will become more important in the workplace of the future, according to the Trend Index 2020 published by Automatica, a leading exhibition for smart automation and robotics.

It surveyed workers from across Europe, including the UK, on their thoughts about the current and future use of robots and automation in the workplace.

British workers particularly supported turning to robots to carry out tasks which didn’t appeal to them or they felt could be bad for their health, according to the survey.

UK workers support the use of robots to do “the dirty, dull and dangerous work” — 73% want technology to take over monotonous routine jobs and 80% want robots to deal with hazardous materials and carry out work that is harmful to health such as lifting heavy loads.

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New post-Brexit immigration plans that are set to be brought in by the government will reduce the number of low-skilled migrant workers from Europe as visas will not be offered to these workers when freedom of movement ends.

“Over many years, the UK has attracted workers from other countries, with businesses preferring to hire people rather than invest in automation equipment,” Mike Wilson, chairman of the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA) said.

“After Brexit, businesses have to ensure that they use their workforce effectively and find alternative ways of performing tasks for which they have a shortage of staff — robot automation being an obvious solution.”

The report also found optimism among UK workers for new job opportunities which could come from working with robots and digital technology — 46% of UK workers asked said they thought education and training in the sector could help pave the way for new career paths.

However, progress could be hindered by a lack of trust in artificial intelligence (AI) — a key part of automation technology — with 40% admitting that AI scared them.

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The findings comes as the Committee on Standards in Public Life recently published a report urging the government to create greater transparency rules around the use of AI in the public sector, warning that the public needed such principles in order to trust in the technology.