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Northern Ireland civil service jobs may be shrunk by technology

As if the Northern Ireland civil service didn’t have plenty to concern itself with at the moment following the departure of Martin McGuinness yesterday, a sixth of their jobs may be replaced by automation over the next decade or so.

The suggestion is highlighted in a report from Deloitte, which suggests one in six civil service jobs in the region could be automated by 2030. In total it reckons 32,960 positions are at risk over the next 15 years.

The robotic age

We’ve written a great deal about robotic process automation on New Statesman Technology over the last few months and it’s here that the job cuts are likely to bite. The idea generally is to replace the boring, repetitive work with automation and leave human beings to perform the more mission-critical work that needs empathy and different people skills.

The thing is, the software robots are getting more sophisticated and are beginning to ape human reactions. Legal process automation has started to become big business and analysts have forecasts that it won’t be long before low-level legal judgments can be automated rather than left to human judgement.

This is fine from the employment point of view as long as there is enough natural wastage to take care of the reduction in numbers. Nobody is talking about firing 32,960 people, there could be redeployments and simple non-replacement of people who retire between now and 2030 to absorb a lot of the change.

The snag is that the overall number of jobs available inevitably reduces, and the skills for the jobs that remain will not be the same as those required for the jobs that exist today.

Northern Ireland civil service needs change management

It therefore doesn’t take a great detective to work out that the Northern Ireland civil service is going to need a lot in terms of change management skills if the report is right (and it’s only a forecast, let’s not get carried away). It’s also important to bear in mind that there’s no reason this should apply to Northern Ireland alone. If automation and self-service are going to be more important there, they’re going to be more important everywhere, particularly as an increasingly IT-literate generation moves through the system and accepts automated interfaces with government services.

If you’re in government IT and are facing similar pressure to change over to automation, it’s worth remembering that managing the change and its impact is as important as making it happen.