BEIS published a report on automation and the future of work on 18 September 2019. The report signals that a UK fear of having our jobs taken over by robots has already resulted in the UK lagging behind our international competitors when it comes to automation and robot technologies. Japan on the other hand is forging ahead as a market leader. In 2015 the UK had just 10 robots for every million hours worked, compared with 131 in the US, 133 in Germany and 167 in Japan.

The report says that if there is not a strong UK government drive for change, knowledge sharing, collaboration and development, the UK could lag behind its G7 competitors. The UK may also not be fully prepared for the rapid development of the future world of work. It is estimated that 65% of children entering primary school will work in new job types that did not exist at the time they started school (see Future of Jobs report, World Economic Forum). Japan has focused on automation not only as a response to demographic challenges, but also as it was recognised that it could have a positive impact on productivity. The government there made a conscious choice to support development as the country was experiencing a similar lack of productivity growth as the UK. Japan has had a Robot Revolution Realisation Council since 2014. According to the BEIS report, it is looking to create a “new Industrial Revolution” in Japan through the use of robots.

As well as looking at global competitors (including Japan) and at what the UK can do to boost productivity to a more automated economy, the report also looked at how workers should be supported through transition. In Japan the government, businesses and trade unions have willingly discussed the benefits of adopting automation. The UK government is not at that stage yet. The report says that UK businesses want more advice on how to adopt automation in the workplace, and researchers want more investment and support for collaboration. Workers and HR professionals would like to see plans for reskilling and greater employee engagement. The report found that many of these “wants” are broadly aligned with the government’s industrial strategy, but highlights a focus in support within certain sectors and challenges. The report recommends a strategy to help those businesses, workers and researchers to use this period of transition to bring a necessary change and improve the way we work. It highlights a risk that if this is not properly managed, businesses and academics could be left behind and become isolated and uncompetitive.

So if your business makes productivity increases through automisation, will all of your employees want a shorter working week? According to the TUC’s report into the future of work, yes they may do. That is if they perceive that productivity increases make it affordable. However, that is not a position supported or recommended by the BEIS report.

As pressure grows to embrace this area, and not miss further opportunities to be competitive, businesses can expect to see greater engagement of trade unions in sector skills councils and more information being conveyed to them. However, this is unlikely to be the government’s primary focus in the current political climate.

Dentons is a forward-thinking law firm embracing AI and automation, and developing solutions to better meet efficiencies desired by its clients. In 2015 Dentons launched Nextlaw Labs, an innovation platform focused on developing, deploying and investing in new technologies and processes to transform the practice of law around the world. Since 2015, Dentons has developed its offering in this area with Nextlaw Ventures (a venture capital firm focused on early-stage legal tech). It has also invested in creating large integrated cross-functional networks (Nextlaw Referral Network and Nextlaw Public Affairs Network) and in a strategic advisory focused on the business of law (Nextlaw In-House Solutions). Further information about Nextlaw can be found here www.nextlaw.com. Is Dentons being more Japanese in embracing these technologies? We like to think so.