Commissioned for the Pissarides Review and supported by the Nuffield Foundation, Professor James Hayton recently presented the findings of a significant study concerning AI adoption in UK firms.

The study drew from a survey encompassing 1,000 UK firms and revealed key insights about AI adoption and its effects on businesses. Following the presentation, a discussion took place involving IFOW Directors Anna Thomas and Dr Abigail Gilbert, alongside Sana Khareghani, the previous head of the government’s Office for AI. The discourse centred around the study’s implications on policymaking and sustaining quality work amid technological advancements.

Noteworthy outcomes from the study highlighted:

  • A net increase in job opportunities.
  • A generally positive influence on skills.
  • An overall beneficial effect on job quality. However, this positive result is contingent on there being a ‘regional innovation readiness’ and an engaged human resource management approach within the firm, which contributes to a more favourable view of technology.

While artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous robots have become regular media topics, there’s been less focus on how tech design and deployment decisions impact job quality, skill requirements, and job creation. This study, integral to the Pissarides Review on the Future of Work and Wellbeing, supports other research suggesting that the future outcomes of tech advancements remain uncertain. Still, it is feasible for innovation and societal benefits to progress in tandem.

The research emphasises the need for immediate action due to the swift pace of technological evolution. Governments, employers, and employees all have a role to play. If mismanaged, there’s potential for automation to amplify existing regional and demographic disparities, possibly leading to significant degradation in job quality.

Anna Thomas, Co-Founder and Director of IFOW, commented, “The research underscores the ongoing AI adoption in UK firms and posits that technological transformation can result in both net job growth and enhanced work quality.” She further highlighted the need for regional investment in education and infrastructure to make the UK ‘innovation ready’ and called for businesses to involve their workers in decisions related to automation and AI.

Professor Sir Christopher Pissarides stated, “With automation reshaping the job market, emphasising good work and job creation should be central to our economic and industrial strategies. This report offers a roadmap to realising this vision.”

Matt Robinson from techUK emphasised the importance of a strong digital foundation in every part of the UK to ensure the benefits of technologies like AI are widely accessible.

Survey specifics indicate that respondents primarily comprised senior executives from various sectors responsible for technology adoption and human resource management. Findings over the last three years show:

  • 79% of firms have adopted new tech for physical tasks, with the same percentage doing so for non-physical or cognitive tasks.
  • SMEs are adopting tech for cognitive tasks at a pace comparable to larger corporations.

Further analysis of the data revealed that regional innovation readiness levels in the UK directly influence the relationship between tech adoption and work outcomes. Policymakers are concerned about the risk of technological advancements amplifying regional disparities. The study suggests that without increased investment in education and connectivity infrastructure, there’s a potential for AI adoption in less prepared regions to negatively impact job quality.

Furthermore, the report emphasises the crucial role of human resource management (HRM) practices in successful technology integration. A management philosophy that values investing in its workforce and emphasises high-engagement practices can bolster the positive impacts of AI adoption. Investments in education and infrastructure also emerge as pivotal for enhancing these beneficial outcomes.

The report – and the concise Briefing Paper with a policy implications summary – is published on the IFOW site here.