Small toy robot holding a spanner against a yellow background.
Image: © besjunior/

UK ‘lagging behind’ in embracing automation and the fourth industrial revolution

19 Sep 2019

A UK government committee is urging the roll-out of tax incentives for investment in new technology and automation on the back of new research.

Future of Work Week

The UK government published a report yesterday (18 September) about automation and the future of work.

Released by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee, it claimed that Britain is falling behind in embracing the fourth industrial revolution, failing to seize opportunities for economic growth and jobs.

The report cited a lack of awareness and understanding when it comes to automation, which could damage productivity for businesses in many sectors.

Paul Smith, executive vice-president and UK general manager at Salesforce, commented on the committee’s findings.

“This report is an important and timely contribution as the UK enters a critical phase of digital transformation. The economy is changing as new technologies emerge. To thrive in the fourth industrial revolution, UK businesses must maximise the benefits of automation to support business growth,” Smith said.

“Employees within British businesses – and particularly SMEs – spend too much time performing tasks that can be easily automated. Embracing technologies like AI and machine learning into the workplace means employees can focus their time and expertise on closing sales, strengthening client relationships or planning for the future.

“Salesforce is committed to driving this agenda to help the UK maintain its position as a leading hub for digital businesses. We recently conducted research which found that 72pc of consumers agree that business leaders need to step up and help create a successful global Britain.

“To this end, given that automation will be key to increasing national productivity, businesses must work to ensure that employees do not feel threatened by it, but empowered. This process requires a change in workplace culture and as business leaders we need to do more to show people how reskilling and gaining new tech qualifications is easier than many people think.”

Too few robots in the workplace

The BEIS committee recommended that the UK government come up with a robot and AI strategy by the end of next year, and asked the government to roll out a tax incentive to foster investment in new technology.

BEIS committee chair Rachel Reeves said: “The switch to automation brings challenges for businesses and for workers, with fears for livelihoods or disruption to job roles coming to the fore. The real danger for the UK economy and for future jobs growth is, however, not that we have too many robots in the workplace but that we have too few.

“For all the potential of the UK, and despite our excellent tech and research base, the fact is that we are lagging behind our international competitors in our adoption of robot and automation technologies. Productivity, economic growth, and ultimately job-creation and higher earnings, will flow to those countries that capitalise on these technologies.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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