Half (50%) of UK employers are planning to invest in automation or IT in the next 12 months in response to staffing challenges, according to the latest quarterly ‘The Real Economy’ report by RSM UK.

The report found that 38% of employers say skills shortages are a worry and investment in technology could help address the recruitment challenges that almost two thirds (61%) of employers said that they are experiencing.

For business investing in automation or IT, the report found the main reason for doing so for 67% of business is to increase efficiency or productivity of employees.

Around four in five business surveyed (87%) are investing in digital to improve employee engagement. Almost half (47%) reported that they have recently invested in improvements to the digital experience for staff to enhance employee engagement, while 36% plan to do so within the next 12 months.

RSM UK chief digital officer Chris Knowles said: “We are seeing significant investment by UK businesses in two types of technology since the start of the pandemic, almost certainly in response to the challenges of remote working. 

“First, we see them investing in automation solutions to enhance productivity and give staff time to focus on value-adding tasks like sales and customer service. Second, we see an even more marked investment in technology to enhance employee engagement, such as collaboration software to improve team communications, social media to attract and engage employees, and aspects of virtual reality (VR) to support team connectedness and interactive training.

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“However, these investments in technology don’t deliver benefits alone. For example, the deployment of RPA (Robotic Process Automation) technology needs to be accompanied by significant investment in process standardisation and upskilling staff to re-focus them on higher value work such as customer service.

“Similarly, technology alone is not the answer to addressing falling levels of staff engagement during Coronavirus.  While better collaboration software and VR can help, it only really works if accompanied by a simultaneous focus on human connectedness – for example, ensuring that line managers regularly check on the well-being of their teams.

“Overall, these results show that UK businesses are increasingly realising that investment in technology is a key part of attracting and engaging staff in what is a hugely competitive talent market.”