A “Just Transition” in tech

June 15, 2022

As rockets are launched toward Mars, and headlines abound with tales of science pushing the frontiers of possibility, at some point we must stop for a moment to consider the full picture. Take robotics and automation, for example. While true that the potential for incredible good here is clear, there are two sides to every coin, and many people are worried about what this automated future might mean for them and their livelihoods.

CIPHR, an HR software provider, recently presented us with a clear, evidence-based picture of the relationship between workers and automation in UK industries. Among the fascinating array of findings you can find laid out in this article by Workplace Insight, CIPHR’s research can be boiled down to three core areas:

  1. Workers’ perceptions of how automation will impact their jobs
  2. The probability of automation according to ONS data
  3. The disparities between the two

You can find the results plotted on an interactive chart here, but the bottom line is that there is a great deal of worry and confusion. Many people fear that their jobs will become obsolete, many jobs may well become automated, and there appears to be a rife misunderstanding.

So what to do, on all three counts?

The first is to set the record straight. Make the data clear, as CIPHR has done, and translate it into workplace management. People have a right to know what direction their livelihoods might take, and how long it could take to get there. The second is for executive management to understand and ethically act upon this data in the interests of their employees. Through these steps, the third point, on the disparity, should resolve itself.

Now, as to how executive management should act? This is the space for a Just Transition.

According to The Economist, automation should lead to job change, not job loss. Humans will still be needed, simply in a different environment. As science progresses, executives should monitor the horizon, implementing ways to retrain, reskill and ultimately protect their employees. With full automation still years away, there is no excuse for not preparing those at risk – alleviating their fears in the present, and boosting their opportunities for the future.

This is a space to watch, and it’s not beyond the atmosphere.

Author: James Scott