Alexa, Did you take our Jobs? The Rising Threat of Automation and Computerisation in the Housing Sector

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2019 Community Conference and Seminar
8 November 2018
Carried as Amended

Conference notes the rising number of business reports and academic research regarding automation and computerisation across the whole economy over the last five years. From Frey & Osbourne’s alarmist 2013 “The Future of Employment”, claiming 47% of jobs in the USA were at risk of automation to Ford’s seminal “the Rise of The Robots” in 2015. There is growing concern that there is an increasing appetite amongst Housing Associations to invest in such software products at a rate not seen in many years. Driven by threats to business income over rent arrears from Universal Credit and Bedroom Tax, to rent cuts and freezes etc. There is also aggressive marketing by software providers.

Capita even title their sales staff as “Product Evangelists”. But it is not just the established players like Capita eyeing up the Housing Association market, recently the likes of Hitachi have been investing and marketing solutions for Associations. New companies like Mobysoft are also actively marketing products such as “Rent Sense”. Many associations are moving towards tenant’s web portals, so they don’t need to engage with staff at all. It is all part of a growing trend that a sector, that was always seen as a “people business”, is increasingly becoming simply a business, losing its soul and purpose. This is a concern for many members in itself, with many long serving members leaving the profession, and possibly the union. More worrying still is the growing threat to jobs from developing technology such as Artificial Intelligence.

The 2018 PWC report “Will Robots Really Steal Our Jobs” in particular makes for scary reading, suggesting possible job losses across sectors and that it will happen in 3 phases. The first phase, the algorithmic wave has already begun. With products like the aforementioned Rent Sense’s algorithms actively being marketed as providing an immediate 32% full time equivalent staff efficiency.

The Second Phase is the Augmentation Wave, and the third the Autonomous Wave could start around the year 2030. The report predicts that by this time around 35% of “public administration” jobs could be at risk. It even predicts that 20% of “human health and social work” jobs could be at risk with further breakdowns and risks to workers by age, gender and educational attainment.

It is clear that the threat to members’ jobs from automation and computerisation is back on the agenda, at a level not seen for many years. Conference therefore calls on the Service Group Executive to:

1) Carry out a questionnaire of members in the housing sector to gather evidence of new software and practices that pose a risk to jobs and canvas their experiences and concerns.

2) Carry out research on companies and products developing automation and efficiency solutions.

3) Develop a strategy to asses and mitigate the risks to member’s jobs from automation and computerisation.