March 17, 2017

Are Employers Facing a New Age of Older Employees and Robots?

Our workplaces are evolving, becoming more diverse and increasing the use of AI for certain roles, but what does that mean for the future of the workplace and what will it look like by 2030?

Championing golden age employees

Employers are being urged to employ one million more over-50s by 2022 by the Government’s business champion for older workers, Andy Briggs.

He has said that every UK employer should employ more 50-69 year old workers to enable older people to work for longer and as a means of addressing the skills gap which is likely to occur as many more employees retire than are replaced by young people entering the workplace.

It has been estimated that in the ten years up to 2022, around 14 million jobs will become available as employees retire, yet there will only be seven million young people joining the workforce.

Many over-50s want to continue developing their skills, taking on new challenges and sharing their experience and knowledge which, in turn, not only benefits them but their employers and fellow workers. With an one in three employees estimated to be over-50 by 2022 this is significant potential to call on.

How the vision of older employees doesn’t match the reality

Although there are approximately 15 million 50-69 year olds in the labour market, only around nine million are actually in work, creating a gap between the government’s vision and the reality of workplaces around the UK. The challenge then, falls to employers to be more age-friendly and more flexible when it comes to allowing older employees to stay in work longer, whilst also retraining them for a increasing technology-led world.

The government has recently launched Fuller Working Lives, a major initiative with a key part being the retain, retrain and recruit programme. Designed to encourage older people to take part in apprenticeship schemes, it is seen as crucial in assisting older workers to remain competitive in the workplace.

Apprenticeships are available to people of all ages, with more than 57,700 of those places being taken by employees aged between 45 and 50 and 3,500 over the age of 60 in 2015-16.

But what about the robots?

There has been much talk in the press about how many jobs will be lost to robots in the next decade, with reports putting that figure anywhere between 10% and 30% of the workforce.

Whether any given job is at risk depends very much on the type of work required.

These predictions put 10-15 million jobs at risk, with around 250,000 public sector workers possibly being replaced by robots in one form or another within the next 15 years.

The ultimate goal of this move is efficiency and economic savings, but in the case of healthcare providers such as doctors and nurses is this the right approach?

Apparently tens of thousands of administrators in the NHS and GPs’ surgeries, along with up to 90% of Whitehall’s administrators, could be replaced by artificial intelligence chat bots, saving as much as £4bn a year.

Whilst there is a major shortage of doctors and nurses it’s already proven that robots can be amazing doctors, diagnosticians and surgeons (already being used for various operations from knee replacement surgery to vision correction).

In the USA, IBM is teaming up with some hospitals to advise on the best treatments for a range of cancers and is also helping to spot early-stage skin cancer with their robot technology.

Other areas which could be at risk of automation are any areas where data processing takes place – certain accountancy functions such as accounts payable and receivable, controlling inventories and number crunching using Excel spreadsheets are seen as particularly vulnerable.

How are robots being used positively in the current workplace?

Machines can use data analysis to identify patterns which improve decision-making and allocate work more efficiently.

As an example, UK police and other emergency services are already using data to predict areas at greatest risk from burglary and fire.

There is a possibility of further automation within the police service, such as using crowd-monitoring drones and the possible use of facial recognition technology, although there are some concerns with holding people’s image data which would have to be resolved prior to the introduction of such methods.

So will our workplaces be, older, robotic, or both?

There’s no doubt that technology is evolving at a rapid rate. In terms of robots in the office and factory floor, our aim in the first instance should be to see how machines can help with more monotonous tasks to free humans up to improve productivity in other ways.

As far as older workers go, Moorepay has written previously on the substantial potential within this sector, and employers would be wise to recognise and put in place the right measures to support those over-45 to the wider benefit of their whole business.

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About the author

Elaine Pritchard

Elaine has a wealth of knowledge in producing contracts, training materials and other documentation as well as training other consultants. She piloted a scheme whereby she went on-site to act as a client’s HR Manager two days per week, whilst the post-holder was on maternity leave. Elaine also previously ran her own retail business for seven years, employing four people. Elaine is a field based consultant for Moorepay and provides on-site HR and Employment Law advice, consultancy and training services to our clients.