Quarter of firms with hard-to-fill vacancies plan to increase automation to ‘plug worker gaps’, CIPD says

Survey also finds four in 10 firms are struggling to fill roles

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A quarter (24 per cent) of organisations struggling to fill vacancies plan to use automation, the CIPD’s latest Labour Market Outlook report has revealed.

The figure has nearly doubled since last summer, when just 13 per cent reported considering using automation to plug gaps – an increase the CIPD attributed to the rise of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT in the past year. 

The survey of 2,000 employers saw four in 10 (40 per cent) predict that AI and automation could increase productivity and efficiency, with a third (32 per cent) anticipating cost savings and a fifth (20 per cent) expecting enhanced decision making.

The report also uncovered the extent of shortages in the workforce, finding that as many as 41 per cent of employers had ‘hard to fill’ vacancies. This figure stood at 51 per cent in the public sector, compared to 38 per cent in the private sector.

James Cockett, labour market economist at the CIPD, told People Management: “With near-record low unemployment, the UK is short of workers. It’s therefore no surprise that employers are looking to automation, and generative AI in particular, to plug the gap.”

He highlighted that this “new wave of automation” could particularly benefit white-collar workers, saying: “AI could make work that previously required a high level of skill more accessible to lower-skilled employees – a group that is far more plentiful. Combined, this will ease recruitment pressures.”

Cockett said that entire roles would not necessarily be able to be filled by the use of AI and automation, but that instead “specific tasks within jobs” could be completed.

The report found that 53 per cent of employers expected no change in the number of full-time staff they employ as a result of their use of generative AI.

However, despite the increasing reliance on automation and AI to plug skills gaps, just 16 per cent of organisations said they have a formal policy in place or any guidance for employees using generative AI. Half (52 per cent) said they had no policy or intention to introduce one.

Employers were uncertain about the potential impact of the use of generative AI at work, with 41 per cent of organisations viewing it as an opportunity, a quarter (23 per cent) seeing it as a risk and 37 per cent remaining unsure.

The report further noted that more than a third (36 per cent) of firms were concerned about privacy and security issues arising from AI, while 31 per cent were worried about bias, legal or ethical issues. 

Dan Lucy, director of HR research and consulting at the Institute for Employment Studies, said the advent of generative AI meant “professionals have ready access at little or no cost to tools that are transforming the way we work”. 

Lucy added that HR teams play a crucial role in the implementation of AI in the workplace and must work out what their “vision” is for AI in their business: “HR professionals are critical to ensuring both their teams and their wider organisation upskill quickly and at the same time help ensure that these tools are used ethically.”

Overall, a higher proportion of public sector employers (42 per cent) anticipate significant problems in filling roles in the next six months than private sector (19 per cent) and voluntary sector (20 per cent) employers.

The education sector reported the most hard-to-fill vacancies at 51 per cent, followed by public administration and other public sector (50 per cent), transport and storage (49 per cent), manufacturing (47 per cent) and the voluntary sector (45 per cent).