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Employers invest in automation and tech to address skills shortage and staff engagement challenges

Recent research demonstrates that half (50%) of UK employers are planning to invest in automation or IT in the next 12 months in response to increasing staffing challenges. According to the latest quarterly ‘The Real Economy’ report by RSM UK, over a third of employers (38%) say skills shortages are a worry, and investment in technology could help address the recruitment challenges that almost two thirds (61%) of employers said they are experiencing.

For those businesses investing in automation or IT, the main reason for doing so for over two thirds (67%) of businesses is to increase efficiency or productivity of employees. With high levels of sickness absence, partly as a result of Coronavirus, and with ‘the great resignation’ leaving record numbers of roles vacant, RSM’s research suggests that many employers view investment in automation and IT as part of the solution to the recruitment challenges they face.

Around four in five businesses surveyed (83%) 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. 

Paul Anthony, regional managing partner, RSM South comments: ‘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.

‘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.’

The survey was the fifth in The Real Economy series of topical quarterly surveys focusing on the middle market as the powerhouse of the UK economy. It was also used as a means of uncovering the wider workforce challenges faced by middle market businesses. The Real Economy is the first authoritative source of economic data from this crucial area of the UK business market, sharing insight and perspective for the wider economy.


Survey: The research was carried out by The Harris Poll, who surveyed 402 senior executives from UK middle market businesses; defined as companies with a turnover between £10m and £750m or financial institutions with assets under management of £200m to £7.5bn.

Data for this survey was collected between 4 October and 25 October 2021. Information was collected online or via telephone from 402 executives meeting the set criteria. All individuals qualified as executive level decision makers working across all regions and a broad range of industries. Responses have been weighted to ensure a true representation of the UK economy.

Chart percentages may not equal 100 per cent due to rounding.

RSM is a leading audit, tax and consulting firm to the middle market with 3,660 partners and staff operating from 32 locations throughout the UK. For the year ending 31 March 2021, RSM generated revenues in excess of £376m. RSM UK is a member firm of RSM International – the sixth largest network of audit, tax and consulting firms globally. The network spans more than 120 countries, over 860 offices and more than 51,000 people, with global revenues of $7.26 billion (US).

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