HR unprepared for AI surge

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​Few employers are prepared for challenges related to increased automation, according to research

Willis Towers Watson’s The Global Future of Work Survey approached 909 companies worldwide, and found that they expect automation will account for 22% of the work being done in the next three years. That compares with the 12% of work companies say is being done using artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics today, and just 7% three years ago.

The research suggested that HR is not currently fully prepared for potential organisational changes brought on by technology. Just 31% of organisations have taken steps to address talent deficits, only 32% have attempted to identify the emerging skills required for their business, while 29% say that they have tried to find appropriate talent for a digital workforce.

While few employers have measures in place, respondents said they were planning to take action in the future through establishing which tasks can be automated (50%), and identifying ways to reskill talent whose work could be automated (48%). Additionally, almost two-thirds (63%) said leaders will need to think differently about the requirements and skills for succession as a result of automation, and 61% said automation will change how managers educate workers on the impact AI will have on their jobs.

The impact of AI on independent workers was found to be especially significant. While 19% of respondents said automation currently enables or requires them to use more non-employee talent, such as free agents or contractors, 50% expect that to be the case in the next three years.

George Zarkadakis, digital lead for Willis Towers Watson, said: “UK companies clearly see work automation gaining momentum, with little signs of slowing down anytime soon. The implications for HR and talent strategies are immediate.

"On one hand, the growing use of AI, robotics, free agent workers, contractors, consultants and part-time employees brings with it HR challenges that few organisations are prepared to tackle. On the other hand, many companies recognise the need for breakthrough and innovative approaches – and are reinventing work and how talent and skills combine.”

The findings come as separate research from Indeed revealed that the UK is creating AI jobs faster than the US, Canada or Australia; 1,300 out of every million UK roles advertised on the site are in the AI field.

AI jobs were found to pay above the UK average salary, with data scientists earning £56,385 per year and machine learning engineers earning an average of £54,617 per year.

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