AI to rescue the lost generation

The UK is facing a significant problem of nearly 9 million people (age 16-64) who are ‘economically inactive’ meaning that they do not currently have a job and are not looking for work. Those who are employed are taking more sick days in the last decade than ever before. The CIPD revealed that staff are taking on average 7.8 sick days in the past year compared to 5.8 before the pandemic.

This is an urgent problem that the government, education, and businesses need to address by devising and reforming strategies and policies to tackle it head on not just for the benefit of the economy but also for peoples’ welfare. AI technology can assist in playing a pivotal role in providing innovative solutions to help get people back into the workplace, reduce sick days and make a difference.

Sick leave costs the economy £32.7 billion last year, according to Zurich and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) and is forecasted to double to £66.3 billion by 2030.

The UK’s inactivity rates before the pandemic were the second lowest in the G7 but now the increase in inactivity results in the UK residing in fourth place out of the seven. Along with the skills shortage crisis in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) the UK will suffer with detrimental consequences with significant levels of inactivity from the emerging younger demographic.

The decline in mental health is one of the major contributing factors to these statistics which has accelerated particularly with the younger generation over the last few years. There are 2.7 million under 25 students who are ‘inactive’ (Office of National Statistics) and the Resolution Foundation revealed that people in their early twenties are more likely to be not working due to ill health than those in their forties.

For those who are ‘economically inactive’ there are a myriad of reasons why they don’t want a job ranging from the cost of childcare, caring responsibilities for someone who is sick or elderly, they themselves are mentally or physically sick, or they have lost or don’t have the confidence to get a job because they feel they are not qualified for anything or don’t have any skills.

It is imperative that we get these people into the workplace particularly the younger generation otherwise the UK will suffer in terms of productivity and economic growth if action is not taken. The government, education and businesses need to collaborate on devising strategies and policies to solve this pressing issue.

The government has started an initiative called Work Well to support 60,000 long term sick or disabled people to start and succeed in the workplace. The scheme will support workers with counselling services, stress management workshops and mental health awareness programmes.

Promoting work life balance with flexible working and focusing on upskilling. However, it is still in pilot stage and has been criticised for its one size fits all approach and is only for one segment of the ‘economically inactive’.

The Chancellor Jeremy Hunt recently announced in budget he will reduce the starting rate of NI contributions from 10%-8% for 27 million workers from 6th April along with an extension of free childcare services for working parents.

There is a whole host of initiatives that the government need to address from the cost of transport, lengthy NHS waiting lists and the potential need to devise new policies such as offering financial incentives to businesses and organisations to hire economic inactive people which may include grants, tax breaks or subsidies. This could also be offered to the people to make returning to work more financially attractive than being on benefits which will be reduced as income increases.

Government bodies should use the tremendous processing and analysing capabilities of AI to identify trends and patterns among the economic inactive to garner insights in why they aren’t working, what challenges they face, what demographic groups they are in etc to devise appropriate policies and strategies to help get them back into work.

Businesses should devise their own recruitment and employee wellbeing strategies and use AI to augment them to reduce sick days and get the ‘economically inactive’ back into the workplace.

Managing the welfare of employees is an ongoing evolutionary process that requires time, commitment, and evaluation

AI can help by assessing the skills and capabilities of ‘economically inactive’ individuals guiding them to appropriate jobs for their skill sets or where they need to skill up. Assisting them by delivering personalised programmes to fit with their training requirements and their pace of learning making it available 24/7 so people can access it when it’s convenient for them from their own homes.

The AI algorithm can also analyse job seekers CVs to not only to identify their skills, experiences and preferences but also match them with suitable jobs and to suggest other jobs that they may not have considered.

The advantage of AI and tech-based platforms are that it maybe the preference of these individuals as many may lack confidence and be hesitant to speak over the phone or face to face with a person so the automated tech route maybe a more successful route.

A good starting point for people who are economically inactive are AI chatbots who can provide career guidance and support helping people navigate the job market, assist with CVs, prepare for interviews etc. This online virtual support is critical for people who find it difficult to get out of the house, fit in with their demanding hours of caring or being ill and again for those who are not so confident speaking over the phone or face to face with someone making it accessible for all.

AI has the capability to ensure that businesses screen potential employees by removing the biases from the recruitment processes ensuring that everyone is treated the same and has the same opportunities. So, in this case AI can identify which individuals are sick, who are carers etc by presenting them with roles to suit them such as flexible hours and working from home.

AI can assess what skills and qualifications a candidate has identifying if they are suitable for a role and if not suggest alternative roles or training plans, or different options. Presenting an array of different options is reassuring for individuals who are nervous that they are not qualified or skilled enough for the workplace. Resulting in an inclusive talent pool for businesses and reducing employment barriers individuals usually face.

It is imperative that people are aware that gone are the days where you must go out to work full time and remote working and flexible hours are an option. Working from home and flexible hours enables people to work when it suits them to fit in within their caring responsibilities or their health needs. Promoting part time work, flexible hours, job sharing and the ability to work from home is imperative to getting the ‘economically inactive’ back to work.

Unified communications solutions enable people to work from home having the same features and functionality that they would have in an office providing the ability to make calls, send instant messages, perform video conference calls, share documents, the list goes on. Now contact centre agents can also work from home making this job very flexible for all.

Businesses need to provide health and wellness support to reduce sick days and encourage the ‘economically inactive’ back to work to ensure that both mental and physical health of employees is supported.  AI can assist with monitoring and managing wellbeing, such as virtual counselling, meditation, and stress management. These tools are particularly useful for those who are reluctant to seek face to face help or to assist as a stop gap before someone gets an appointment for face-to-face assistance.

Managing the welfare of employees is an ongoing evolutionary process that requires time, commitment, and evaluation. AI can help gather feedback and analyse it to improve support programmes and workplace practices to ensure that initiatives are current and effective.

By combining these strategies together, the UK government, education and businesses can help the ‘economically inactive’ get back into the workplace and reduce sick days for the wellbeing of the economy and the individuals. By devising personalised strategies that address individuals’ specific needs, the challenges they face, the skills and qualifications they require businesses will be able to find individuals that most suited to a job where they can grow, develop and thrive with confidence.