Stories of our impact

AI can do it better?

What is the true impact of technology on work? As artificial intelligence and robotics advance at pace, more and more of the work we do can be performed by smart machines. Optimists argue that these technologies will create new jobs by increasing human intelligence and relieving people of repetitive and even dangerous activity; pessimists say that they will decimate the workforce, leading to greater inequality and mass unemployment.

Calculating the potential impact of automation at a macro level is no easy task, with different technologies affecting different occupations to different degrees. We created the Future of Work series of insight reports to respond to the debate.

All that data

Following our 2014 research with University of Oxford academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne on the future of employment, clients consistently asked us two questions: how realistic the estimates of job losses were (we forecast that 35 per cent of the UK’s jobs could be automated in the next 20 years); and how businesses should adapt to a future where many routine occupations are automated.

At the time, there was little to connect the obvious advances in technology with possible shifts in the labour market, and there was increasing hype and uncertainty around the impact of automation. This clear gap in the market led us to create the Future of Work series. Empirical evidence rather than subjective judgement were necessary to convince clients of the need for change, so we used a detailed historical analysis of Labour Force Survey data from the Office for National Statistics, complemented with data from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings and the US O*NET.

We revealed our first report, From brawn to brains: The impact of technology on jobs in the UK, in September 2015. In 2016, we published two further studies: Transformers: How machines are changing every sector of the UK economy and Talent for survival: Essential skills for humans working in the machine age, providing the UK with a standard measure of the risk of automation and evidence of the impact on jobs.

From information to action

Considerable media coverage - including BBC One’s Panorama and an interactive ‘widget’ on the BBC News website that allowed individuals to understand their own risk of being automated - sparked conversations in schools, universities and businesses. The research was also used to brief business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Several clients are adapting their talent and hiring strategies to increase the emphasis on cognitive and social skills. We have been invited to brief policymakers and senior strategists in several government departments, and we have also presented to the Skills, Talent and Migration Group of TechUK, the UK’s trade body for technology firms.

We were proud to see these reports being awarded the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) Award for Best Use of Thought Leadership in 2017. And the research is now being used to carve out new perspectives on existing debates on how to increase the number of women in STEM, narrowing the gender pay gap, increasing social mobility and demonstrating the benefits of hiring military veterans.

Our research also forms the basis for a new cognitive platform that is helping our clients to rethink the types of work that new technologies can automate or augment. Our Future of Open Talent Optimisation approach reimagines workforce planning for a workforce augmented by AI, robots and the open talent economy.