Will technology ever replace people in the workplace?

Posted on 7 Sep 2022

We all know that technology has taken over the workplace. From the messages we send via email or even social-media-style chats such as Microsoft Teams, to the tasks we complete and how we complete them, technology is a mainstay of the professional world.

Increasingly over the past few years, we’ve also seen technology have a big impact on the jobs market, with roles traditionally performed by humans replaced by technology, or even, in some cases, robots. So, what is the global history and future of technology in the workplace? Is that reflected here in the UK? What impact will this have on IT departments? And will technology really replace people?

Technology in the workplace

In truth, technology has been replacing human activity for years. As The University of Melbourne discusses, decades ago the rise of automobiles put many horse and cart drivers out of work, and the increase of technology in the agriculture sector took workers out of fields. More recently, we’ve seen jobs with a human and data-orientation, such as admin, data entry, machinery workers and building and related trade workers decrease in numbers as the technology we use becomes more adaptable, powerful, and capable. But what jobs will technology impact in the future?

City AM reports how, in the years to come, it will primarily be the jobs where human activity can be replaced by automated processes that will be phased out. This includes telemarketers, underwriters, tax preparers, data entry keyers, and insurance claims and policy processing clerks. At the rate that technology is growing and expanding, it’s likely that we will see rapid change in several industries, with many human jobs globally replaced by technology. But are we seeing the same pattern here in the UK?

Technology and the UK workplace

As The Telegraph reports, Britain is notoriously behind other countries when it comes to automation in the workplace. For example, it’s the only country in the G7 that has a lower proportion of industrial robots than the global average, ranking a lowly 24th in the world. In contrast, Korea has one of the highest rates of robots and automated technologies, with 74 robots for every 10,000 employees. In Europe, Germany leads the way, with over two thirds more robotic technology than the UK.

The consequences of both the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit have highlighted the importance for increased funding and development in the automated technology sector, and the UK has now been forced to increase their spending in the field. Businesses in this industry are also being offered tax relief as a further incentive for developing this new technology. However, as the technology grows and develops at such a rate, many would argue that this increased funding has come too late, and the opportunity has been lost. There may also be questions about whether the talent is available to fill this increased demand, and whether the UK can keep up with the rest of the world.

The effect on IT and Recruitment

As we discussed above, technology has taken away the need for certain jobs. However, it also creates new opportunities, and employers will no doubt be searching for new talent to try and bridge the UK’s automated technology gap to the rest of the world. The question remains, however, whether young people are being given the education and opportunities they need to explore and take these roles, or whether the vacancies will remain difficult to fill. Either way, those in the recruitment sector will no doubt have a big task ahead of them sourcing and hiring candidates to fill the automated technology workplace.

This will also have a big impact on the IT sector, as, in the short term at least, they will require the ability to fix and repair new hard and software and have a greater understanding of developing technologies. In the long term, could technology itself replace jobs in the IT sector, as systems becomes increasingly reliable with a reduced need for fixing them?

It is likely, however, that the increased professional and personal reliance on technology will see a net increase in the volume and variety of roles in the IT sector, so it remains highly unlikely that the technology sector will be among those that goes extinct.

So, will technology replace people in the workplace?

Overall, it really depends on the sector. When we think of technology “taking over” the workplace, it can paint a dystopian picture. But whilst there have been jobs lost to automation and technology, as we’ve explored here, often it tends to create more opportunities than it takes away. Some jobs may be lost, but it’s likely that more will be created.

What are your thoughts on robots in the workplace? We’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Get in contact with us to share your opinions.