Will robots help the UK after Brexit?

9th March 2020
Alex Lynn

The number of industrial robots installed in the United Kingdom ranks 22nd worldwide with only 91 units per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing Industry – International Federation of Robotics reports. At the same time, post-Brexit immigration plans unveiled by the government wants to move away from relying on ‘cheap labour’ from Europe and invest in training staff and developing automation technology. 

The lack of education and training for working with robots has already been recognised by the majority of the working population: 65 percent want these skills promoted as a top priority by policy makers. A total of 68% predict, that the use of robots is essential for the competitiveness of the UK´s economy. These are results of the automatica trend index 2020. For the study, 1,000 employees have been surveyed representative of the UK´s population by a market research institute on behalf of the world's leading trade fair for smart automation and robotics automatica (Munich, June 16th to 19th).

“Over many years, the UK has attracted workers from other countries, with businesses preferring to hire people rather than invest in automation equipment,” said Mike Wilson, Chairman of the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA). “After Brexit, businesses have to ensure that they use their workforce effectively and find alternative ways of performing tasks for which they have a shortage of staff - robot automation being an obvious solution.” 

“The UK´s working population already welcomes robots, to do the dirty, dull and dangerous work: 73 percent want the machines to take monotonous routine jobs off the hands of employees,” added Dr Martin Lechner, study director of automatica´s trend index. “About 80% want robots take on tasks with hazardous materials and carry out work that is harmful to health, e.g. lifting heavy loads.” 

The use of smart industrial robots systems will improve the chances of higher quality of work for employees – 58% of the British workers think. A total of 46% agree, that the use of robots will open up new career paths. This is less optimistic than their colleagues from China (63%) the US (55%), France and Germany (53%). 

“In terms of robot density by region, Europe has the highest level worldwide,” said Patrick Schwarzkopf of VDMA - Europe´s largest network organisation for mechanical engineering. “The five countries Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Italy all make the global top-10 regarding robotisation, whereas the UK ranks only 22nd. Not good news for the UK, as robot adoption is key for driving productivity growth.”

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