The UK automation skills gap is a thorny, persistent problem — especially given the looming impact of large-scale events such as Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impending IR35 reforms. Below, we’ll discuss the issues posed by the UK automation skills gap, and how businesses large and small can help close this gap and prepare themselves for future developments. 

What is the UK automation skills gap? 

Broadly speaking, a “skills gap” occurs whenever organisations are unable to find workers with the talent and knowledge they require. IT skills gaps have a widely negative impact on businesses struggling to recruit the right employees: they decrease productivity, make it more difficult to innovate and bring products to market, and hold companies back in the never-ending race against their competitors. 

For organisations to remain competitive, deploying automation will be increasingly crucial in the years to come. Yet too many businesses still lack the proficiency necessary to launch such an initiative: 6 in 10 UK managers say that they’re concerned about the skills gap in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation. 

Closing the UK automation skills gap will become increasingly urgent as automation reshapes the face of the labour market, with large enterprises leading the way. According to an October 2020 report by the World Economic Forum, 80 percent of decision-makers at the world’s biggest companies planned to increase their investment in work process automation. What’s more, the study found that 85 million jobs could be displaced by new technologies in the next five years alone — although the report also estimates that these technologies could create 97 million new job openings. 

COVID, Brexit, and IR35 

Of course, the UK automation skills gap doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Factors such as COVID, Brexit, and IR35 could all impact the UK automation skills gap, creating further complications that UK businesses need to address. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way that many organisations do business, including their use of automation. According to one study, 68 percent of business leaders used automation to help respond to the effects of COVID-19. In addition, the report found that in 2020, 73 percent of organisations were using automation technologies (such as robotics, machine learning, and natural language processing), which represents a stunning jump from just 58 percent in 2019. 

Meanwhile, the impact of Brexit as the UK officially exits the European Union remains to be seen. According to a 2018 CompTIA survey, 34 percent of UK managers believe that Brexit will have a “mostly negative” impact on the IT skills gap, while 46 percent believe that the move will have both positive and negative effects. With a projected slowdown in labour supply in the wake of Brexit, many businesses will have to turn to automation to fill these holes. 

According to Mike Wilson, chairman of the British Automation and Robot Association, Brexit represents a unique opportunity for British companies to expand their use of automation:

“Over many years, the UK has attracted workers from other countries, with businesses preferring to hire people rather than invest in automation equipment… 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.”

Mike Wilson

A third crucial factor in the UK automation skills gap is the impending off-payroll working reforms to IR35, which have been delayed due to the impact of COVID-19. IR35 is intended to fight tax avoidance by employers and contractors who are effectively “disguised” employees of the company. Beginning in April 2021, businesses in the private sector will be responsible for determining their contractors’ tax employment status — whether they should be taxed as an employee. 

Despite not yet coming into force, the IR35 reforms are expected to have a significant impact on the UK contracting workforce. According to an October 2020 survey, just half of UK contractors planned to continue their work past April 2021, while 17 percent planned to become a full-time employee and 18 percent planned to stop contracting entirely. If these figures are accurate, the IR35 shakeup will dramatically affect the UK IT landscape, which often relies on contractors to close the automation skills gap. 

In the face of these challenges and complications, businesses need a reliable, trustworthy way to solve the UK automation skills gap now and into the future. 

convedo Digital Experts 

For over a decade, convedo’s consultants have trained our clients to use automation tools from market-leading technology vendors. Now, we’re helping to close the UK automation skills gap by building the next generation of intelligent automation teams. 

convedo’s Digital Experts program connects enterprises with the top-tier talent they need to stay competitive in a rapidly changing business landscape. We find outstanding IT graduates; train them to use the latest automation, workflow, robotic process automation, and AI technologies; and then embed them seamlessly into our clients’ workflow. 

From Microsoft and Appian to OutSystems and Blue Prism, convedo’s Digital Experts program gives enterprises the intelligent automation skills and technologies they need to excel. That’s why we’re trusted by some of the world’s leading brands, including KPMG, Deutsche Bank, and Swiss Air. 

To find out if convedo’s Digital Experts program is right for your business, check out the Digital Experts website to learn more, and get in touch with our team about your needs and objectives. 

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