Robots and AI can deliver benefits for working people, says TUC

Is a robot about to take my job? That’s a question being asked by many working people, but a new report published by the TUC says that digitisation, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) can bring benefits for employees as well as businesses.

The report – Shaping Our Digital Future – says there is no need to panic about the impact of digitalisation, but there is a need to plan.

The trade union federation argues that technological change is inevitable, but it can deliver economic growth and more jobs. Furthermore, it’s important that the benefits of digitalisation are fairly shared across the workforce and society – avoiding the disruption to jobs and livelihoods and the rising inequality that have accompanied technological change in the past.

Addressing the fear of new technologies wiping out millions of jobs, the report notes that digitalisation is sometimes called the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ – reminding us that there have been three periods in which breakthrough technologies disrupted the established industrial order over the last 250 years. In each previous case, those technologies resulted in more jobs. Moreover, here and now, the UK employment rate is currently at a record high – despite widespread technological change over the past 30 years.

According to the report, the UK should plan how to use digitalisation to enhance productivity, jobs and wages – particularly in the areas which previous waves of industrial change have left behind.

A key aim must be to protect workforces and communities that are at greatest risk of seeing their jobs change. In practice, this means making a significant investment in the skills of the existing workforce in order to widen people’s career opportunities.

“Two thirds of those who will be in work in 2030 are already in the workforce – so investing in mid-career workers will be key to making sure that the next wave of technological change is one which benefits everybody” the authors explain.

All workers should have access to a mid-life career review to assess their skills, and firms should invest more in workplace training, the report recommends.

Lastly, the report argues that the productivity benefits and economic gains from new technology should be used to benefit working people.

Robots and other technological developments have the potential to liberate working people from routine tasks and drudgery, and so make jobs more skilled and satisfying. In addition, where these technologies lead to new wealth, the benefits should be shared – both in terms of income gains and more free time, for example by reversing policies to raise the state pension age.

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