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How will Brexit, skills shortages and AI impact the HR community?

Kirsty Groves

Last year was tantamount to the perfect political storm for HR professionals in the UK – A general election where jobs were high on the agenda (and with an outcome that was unexpected, at least by those in power at the time) and ongoing Brexit negotiations that will ultimately shape the medium to long-term outlook for the employment market and its regulation in this country.

In fact, the uncertainty across both areas is as pronounced now as it was last summer. Certainly, the minimum wage, national living wage, executive pay, tax, education & skills, employment rights and working conditions have continued to be vigorously debated among the main parties since the election.

Some of these policies and discussions have an immediate impact on HR, while others will play out over time – with opinion on the best approach to Brexit still polarised across the main parties (and within them). Plus, the Brexit outcome is something that the Government is not in full control of, such is the nature of negotiations with the EU.

Already, there’s plenty of debate within the human resources community about what Brexit will ultimately mean for our industry. Plus, those opinions and supporting evidence vary considerably, depending on which industry we are focused on.

Take IT, for example. There is now consensus and genuine fear that UK organisations are suffering from a digital skills gap at every level (particularly in cyber security) and that Brexit will further reduce Britain’s access to tech talent.

A recent survey by graduate IT training and services provider Sparta Global polled leading technology professionals across a number of industries, including finance, media and tech.

All admitted their organisations are suffering skills gaps at all levels – graduate (38%), mid-level (55%) and management (39%).

Software development was identified by 52% of respondents as a missing skill, making it the most sought after area of expertise. This was followed by test automation skills (40%), DevOps (38%), BA/PMO (19%) and manual testing (16%).

Almost half of the survey respondents claim Brexit has already reduced access to talent from outside the UK. One in four contractors with a non-UK passport admitted that the post-Brexit threat of a more restrictive immigration policy had influenced their decision to leave the UK.

But if there is a ying to the Brexit skills shortage yang, could it be found within the comforting arms of the much-debated Apprenticeship Levy?

A third of UK businesses view apprentices as the most valuable source of emerging talent, according to another poll of over 2,000 senior HR professionals.

The data comes following the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April last year – an initiative designed to boost the number of young people entering vocational training.

The survey – carried out by Alexander Mann – found that graduates remain the favored talent pool for entry-level recruits, with just under half (47%) of respondents naming university leavers as the most valuable source of emerging talent.

However, 28% of respondents admitted they were finding it difficult to fill graduate roles, with just 12% reporting that sourcing and securing the relevant skills is currently easier than it has been previously.

Away from politics, HR also needs to keep an increasingly close eye on the world of technology, particularly when it comes to AI and automation – trends that are likely to have a profound impact on the nature of work across the entire planet over the next 30 years.

There has been no shortage of headlines to back up the feeling that we’re on the cusp of a ‘rise of the robots’. A report created by acclaimed futurist James Wallman and online business directory Yell revealed a positive view on how working lives will look by the year 2050, thanks to AI, AR and the Internet of Things.

The results were intriguing, with the most prominent being the ‘Four Hour Working Day’. The current work day was set up to squeeze as much as possible out of workers when they performed routine tasks in factories and offices. But emerging research suggests that 8-hour days are a suboptimal way to work – the optimum is far closer to 4 hours per day.

As robots and ‘cobots’ perform more of the routine tasks, humans will become more creative. And the best way to be creative is to work around four hours per day. This radical change will also have huge benefits on our health and wellbeing, as well as balancing family life. It’s a prediction sure to excite workers around the world.

For HR departments, however, it’s just another unknown – it feels like the need for the proverbial crystal ball has never been more pronounced.

With that entire in mind, the London HR Summit, Training & Development Summit and Employee Benefits & Rewards Forum each represent unique opportunities for you to meet with industry peers to discuss the pressing issues of the day.

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