This report examines the potential benefits that could be realised from the rollout of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in the workplace – as well as the potential challenges for policymakers.
In particular, it explores the extent to which 4IR can deliver benefits for employers and employees, and the role that policymakers can play in ensuring 4IR is rolled out in a way that improves the lives of most people.
4IR refers to the latest technologies which are building on the digital revolution that commenced in the second half of the 20th Century. This includes internet-connected household appliances (“the internet of things”), driverless cars, big data, robotics and artificial intelligence.
This report is the second in a series on the impact of 4IR in the UK. It builds on the first report, “4IR in the Home”, which examined how new innovations are improving our quality of life in areas like care, transport and the home.
- Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies could transform Britain’s workplaces, with changes for employees and employers alike – if policymakers take the right decisions.
- Employees could get more leisure time, more fulfilling work and a safer workplace. They will need new protections from potential problems such as skills becoming redundant and undue workplace monitoring.
- Employers could see their organisations become more productive and profitable. Smaller employers in particular will need to embrace technology more fully.
- Policymakers should deliver new workplace rights, better infrastructure, improved training opportunities and updated competition policies fit for the 21st Century.
To ensure the benefits of 4IR are maximised, and the challenges minimised, we recommend that government and policymakers:
- Develop a cross-government 4IR working group to develop a clear action plan for driving forward the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the UK, with sub-committees for infrastructure, the business environment, homes and health & social care, as well as potentially other areas.
- Develop a broad 4IR infrastructure strategy that takes account of all relevant aspects of infrastructure – such as fixed and mobile connectivity, roads, car design, public transport, energy infrastructure and planning requirements.
- Require employers to consult with employees on the use of new forms of workplace surveillance and monitoring. In addition, government should create a series of employee panels to examine how use of 4IR is impacting the quality of work in the UK – for example, monitoring the extent to which technology is being used to shift individuals onto zero hours contracts, or impose new heavy-handed forms of employee monitoring.
- Require large companies in the UK to report on the extent to which profit and productivity gains are translating into higher employee wages – applying social pressure on companies to share productivity gains with employees. The current government should also examine the case for making its proposed cuts to corporation tax contingent on better employee outcomes, such as wage rises and job security.
- Give the National Retraining Scheme a broader remit, to offer a wide range of retraining opportunities across the whole economy – including through the widespread provision of online, evening and weekend learning solutions.
- Provide tax relief on costs associated with self-funded work-related training for new skills, to encourage more individuals to reskill and prepare for the changing job market as 4IR is rolled out.
- Work with town planners and local government to explore the role that co-working spaces can play in improving SME access to and use of new technologies such as high quality videoconferencing facilities. This should include exploring the role that the government can play in turning some of its own buildings into co-working spaces.
- Ensure the CMA has sufficient resource and remit to deal with the emerging competition challenges posed by new technologies.