Staff shortages in the wake of Brexit could be plugged by increased automation and robots, according to a new report.
Most British workers support the idea of using robots to perform manual jobs and heavy lifting if cheap migrant labour vanishes from UK shores after Priti Patel’s points-based system comes into force.
There is also significant support for increased levels of automation among British people, according to the Trend Index 2020 published by Automatica.
It surveyed workers from across Europe – including the UK – on their thoughts about the current and future use of the technology.
The UK Government’s post-Brexit immigration plans are set to move the UK away from offering visas to low-skilled migrant workers from Europe.
This will drastically reduce the number of those workers coming to the UK.
According to the report, 68 per cent of participants believe the use of robots will be essential for the competitiveness of the UK’s economy.
While almost three-quarters (74 per cent) said they will become increasingly important in the workplace of the future.
Mike Wilson, chairman of the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA) said: ‘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.’
CAN AI ROBOTS REPLACE CONSTRUCTION WORKERS?
Robotics are common in manufacturing sites, such as auto plants, but those machines are stationery and carrying out the same task over and over, often in sterile and enclosed environments.
Robots used in construction sites have to move around.
Although much of what they may do is repetitive, they still have to respond to uneven floors and zigzagging routes, depending on a building’s design.
Shimizu says it is developing its own artificial intelligence systems, using robots made by Kuka Robotics of Germany.
If they work successfully, the robots could help reduce safety risks and long hours for construction workers.
Using robots makes sense in urban construction, where buildings are high-rise and the same work is repeated on each floor.
The research showed that British workers were strongly in favour of turning to robots to carry out certain tasks, particularly those which didn’t appeal to them or they felt could be hazardous to health.
Dr Martin Lechner, study director of Automatica’s Trend Index said: ‘The UK’s working population already welcomes robots, to do the dirty, dull and dangerous work: 73 per cent want the machines to take monotonous routine jobs off the hands of employees.
‘About 80 per cent want robots to take on tasks with hazardous materials and carry out work that is harmful to health, e.g. lifting heavy loads.’
Ms Patel’s Australian-style points-based immigration system is expected to cause a drop in net migration when it is introduced some time next year.
A crackdown on the number of low-skilled workers coming to the UK is at the heart of the new border control blueprint.
The plans will make low-skilled immigration almost impossible as EU free movement is consigned to history.
Instead, EU migrants’ chances of getting a work visa will be the same as for applicants from elsewhere.
They will need at least 70 points to work in Britain, with points awarded for speaking English, if the job earns a salary above £25,600 and if it is at a certain skill level.
The British public is optimistic that the increase in robots will actually provide new job opportunities.
Almost half (46 per cent) of UK workers asked said they believed education and training in the sector could help open up new career paths.
However, trust in artificial intelligence – a key part of automation technology – remains an issue, with 40 per cent of those asked admitting that AI scared them.
British scientists are working on creasing robots specifically designed to master some jobs which may see a shortfall in applicants in a post-Brexit Britain.
Last year, the University of Plymouth built a £700,000 machine which carefully plucks a raspberry from a plant and carefully places it in a punnet.
Currently, the painstaking process takes 60 seconds to pick one berry due to the complex task at hand.
It stands around six foot tall (1.8metres) and was built to help combat a continued drop in the amount of migrant farm workers available for the arduous harvests.
The same university also built a cauliflower-picking machine.
Dr Martin Stoelen, a lecturer in robotics at Plymouth where the machine was created, said in 2019: ‘A lot of producers are very worried about where they will get their reasonably priced manual labour from – and rightly so,’ Dr Stoelen said at the time.
‘Manual harvesting also represents a large portion of their total costs, often it can be up to 50 per cent, so looking at addressing that, especially against a backdrop of Brexit, is very important.’