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Robotic Process Automation answers the global labor shortage. How does RPA help businesses sustain their growth, retain employees, and attract new talents?

Wojciech Andryszek
Wojciech Andryszek
Robotic Process Automation answers the global labor shortage. How does RPA help businesses sustain their growth, retain employees, and attract new talents?

We all know that world markets struggle with a significant labor shortage. In recent years, millions of people have switched jobs. Some quit work permanently. Only in the US, from May to September 2021, 20.2 million employees left their companies. Consequently, businesses have to review their approach to productivity and look for solutions to help them grow further or maintain the current pace and employees.

The range of possibilities is not extensive. Above all, companies need to challenge themselves and focus on what they can do with what they have. It may sound like an evident and even cheap philosophy, but it provides some practical aspects, including new technologies.

5 ways to deal with workers shortage

Some experts point out the so-called zero-based approach, which suggests finding how the organization can do more, having less. It can be done by cross-sectional verification of what has been done so far and starting from a blank page. And here, a few possibilities are hiding.


Redefining and reinventing

Simply put, it means looking at a workforce from scratch. Managers need to determine which work can be interrupted, how to transfer employee competencies, which processes to limit or simplify, and how to improve the implementation and use of available technologies.

Skills management

That may be one of the best ways to prevent employees from switching jobs. Training and retraining will be helpful to retain qualified and productive members of the personnel. More so if the company can identify the gaps within its processes and workforce skills.

Tasks outsourcing

A slightly different approach to dealing with labor shortages is outsourcing tasks. It means that some repetitive and rule-based activities within the organization can be transferred outside. The goal is to reduce the cases of employees discouragement, professional burnout, and turnovers.

Supporting engagement

Another critical element is creating opportunities for greater employee involvement in their responsibilities. These are tasks resulting, for example, from the company's mission, requiring more strategic thinking and performance. In other words, it is about creating experiences in which the employee does not feel like a robot.

Automation with RPA

Speaking about robots mentioned above, businesses can enhance every method we listed so far and, to some extent, successfully replace it with work automation, or more specifically, Robotic Process Automation (RPA). It is a solution that attracts the market's attention to an ever greater extent and expands the investments in this area.

Thou shall software thy robots!

There is no denying that RPA automation has become a significant factor affecting enterprises' conditions, and demand for such solutions is growing. After all, it's still the fastest developing part of enterprise software, with over 60 vendors reaching across the globe.

The business needs to focus on automation, thus integrating various systems, caring about efficiency, and... retaining employees. The more that, contrary to popular myths, RPA technology cannot replace the human workforce. As almost every definition underlines, software robots can relieve employees of repetitive and almost mechanically performed activities. As experts in the field often repeat: "RPA automates tasks, not jobs."

It has a strategic meaning in the context of the global workforce crisis. The goal is for the staff to focus on more strategic or creative operations while bots will perform tedious tasks 24/7 with a minimum error rate at 100% capacity. Among other benefits, like cost reduction and higher efficiency indicators, this situation translates into increased job satisfaction - mostly desired in today's market.

RPA bots counter the routine

Let's illustrate it with a real-life example. Imagine a group of junior and mid-level employees in a well-known advertising enterprise. Their duties include manual rewriting over 3.000 invoices a week - from Excel to the outdated user interface. The process takes a while and shortens the time of fulfilling other responsibilities.

Even though the team does its best, the task involves errors related to submitting invoices for different amounts than expected. And that means the additional work - corrections, repetitions, rush, and the extra stress. In other words, this career vision is not encouraging and favors employee turnover.

Fortunately, the managers decided to implement automation for invoicing. And it wasn't just turning on the software robots. The goal was to avoid automating any flawed processes and fix crucial operations. Otherwise, it would burden the workers again. So, the firm used RPA to trace any problems upstream to the point where the team noticed difficulties with proper calculations while actualizing spending.


In other words, the organization used RPA to extract data from the involved sources, perform calculations based on supplier conditions, and send notifications with the expectation of being invoiced weeks prior.

Consequently, the bots reduced the manual efforts by 95% (saving over 125,000 hours of work) with a shallow error rate. They significantly increase employee satisfaction, which raises the possibility that they stay loyal to the company. The latter is crucial, especially during a worker's crisis.

Labor shortage or just a staff turnover?

Perhaps the most illustrative example is the situation in the US labor market. At the beginning of 2022, it offered 11.3 million job openings with a high employee turnover rate. Between December 2021 and January 2022, 6.5 million people found a new position, but 4.3 million left their employers. The experts agree that it will be a long process until the situation stabilizes.

According to a survey commissioned by UiPath, a world leader in the RPA automation market, nowadays (2022), 62% of companies struggle with the labor shortage. Their executives point out that the major challenges include:

  • attracting new talents to take on necessary tasks (74%)
  • losing skilled people to manage essential tasks (69%)
  • disrupting workflows due to higher rates of onboarding and offboarding (58%).

Among the most significant factors influencing employees' decisions to leave or change their job are:

  • pressure on work/life balance (58%)
  • low compensation (54%)
  • lack of advancement opportunities (42%).

These challenges and the accompanying numbers are described as The Great Resignation. According to Microsoft's Work Trend Index, over 40% of the global workforce were considered to quit jobs in 2021.


The global workers' shortfall

Other countries face similar problems. The UK needs around 1.1 million workers to fill the job vacancies. The German market lacks 400.000 qualified talents, and France entered 2022 with similar 263.000 open positions.

Considering the EU, labor shortages vary across the regions. In Eastern Europe countries, nearly 39% of manufacturing companies and 42% of construction businesses lack a qualified workforce.

The same issues also affect the biggest labor market in the world. Chinese Ministry of Education estimated that by 2025 the local manufacturing companies would be short of about 30 million workers. In the meantime, over 2.1 million young people opted for civil services jobs, and a growing number of Chinese applicants prefer office employment.

Interestingly, we see a very similar problem to the Chinese market in India. The current situation (2022) shows that across various industries - manufacturing, engineering, real estate, construction, healthcare, or pharmaceutical - notice 15-25% workers shortfall (around 1 million resignations in 2021).

Although struggles related to the labor shortage worldwide may be similar to those of the US market, the reasons for workforce lack may be a bit different. **Many studies underline the generation changes, and along with it:

  • a need for more challenging work
  • avoiding highly repetitive duties
  • opposing the traditional 9-5 model
  • anxieties of going back to the shared workspaces (related to Covid-19)
  • burnouts
  • changing life priorities and growing salary expectations
  • cultural and social stereotypes (i.e., blue-collar jobs signify lower education and social status).

The Great Resignation impact

Of course, the new staffing problems overlap with the existing ones. Many industries, including IT, medicine and care, manufacturing, engineering, food, and tourism, have struggled with these challenges for years.

Still, we need to underline that perturbations in the global labor market forced many businesses to limit the number of performed operations and narrow down the scope of services or abandon them entirely. And that is followed by the difficulties in finding and keeping their crews.

Such problems strongly complicated the work of employees who don't participate in the Great Resignation process. In most cases, they have to expand their responsibilities, realizing additional tasks. It limits them in providing an expected quality of work, resulting in more stress and pressure.


Finally, all this also affects the customers. The staff shortage often translates into lower service quality, longer wait times, and even some goods availability. In consequence, companies risk their customers' loyalty and stronger competition.

Providing RPA benefits - an HR automation example

Solving some of the problems mentioned above oscillates between business politics and social issues, so acquiring and retaining talents depends mainly on the company's policy itself and the capabilities of HR departments.

The idea is to engage new technologies to provide optimal employee experiences. At the same time, the HR professionals could spend more time focusing on candidates and employee-engagement activities, rewards management, performance optimization, culture, and training.

Even the leading RPA developer itself

UiPath, a global leader in RPA solutions, provides a simple yet intriguing example with its own HR and contradicts the old saying: "The shoemaker's children are ill-shod." The enterprise engage its People Operation Team to deal with the automation of onboarding tasks for new employees. The main problem was that one person filled many documents by hand, mainly through copy-paste activities.

It was a vital element of the process, yet very repetitive. The paperwork was consuming a significant amount of time that could be spent on other, valuable tasks. Consequently, it was an activity that employees were reluctant to undertake.

At this time, UiPath was hiring 8 to 10 new employees daily, and preparing documents for each one required about 30 minutes. No wonder a given HR specialist cloud has lower job satisfaction. Besides, the whole department was facing many more problems. Hence, CHROs decided to facilitate the HR department's tasks while at the same time making it offer a digital and affordable experience.

The company used its software robot with optical character recognition (OCR). So, the bot could recognize the data visible on the computer screen and enter the information into the HR database according to the adapted algorithm, keywords, etc. The only thing left was to verify if the processes data was correct.

It took about one-sixth of the time for the bot to complete the task with the onboarding documentation. The HR person could spend more time on CSR-related activities. The bot appeared to be a user-friendly HR automation solution increasing the personnel's efficiency.

Proof in numbers

The above example reminds us that many processes are still performed manually in many HR departments. And while they are time-consuming, there are fewer occasions to find, verify, onboard and take care of every candidate, worker, etc.

It's pretty surprising! More so that RPA can automate so many processes in Human Resources. If we consider the recruitment process alone, the software bots can successfully take over:

  • new employee profile creation
  • new employees' data verification
  • vacation and absence management (sick, leave, and vacation time requests)
  • expenses report preparation
  • performance of goals monitoring
  • gathering professional development documentation
  • automated document generation.


All the points above may seem just a piece of dry information, but they have a deeper meaning. Let's look closer at the candidate of applicants' pre-screening process alone. It consumes nearly 50% of one recruiter's working time - almost 20 hours every week.

Investing in HR automation can change the process entirely, reducing the activity, on average, to one hour per week. This way, the RPA bots save up to 95% of the time. Of course, that means more time for finding new talents and a noticeably greater chance that a worthy candidate won't go elsewhere.

Such gain in time may generate $30.000 in cost-saving per year for every recruiter. When we look at it globally, the savings must be enormous.

But there is more. Having more opportunities through HR departments can determine further operations for automation. Being a link between the company and employees, HR specialists can actively help adapt people in the organization to workplaces enhanced by software robots.

Looking back to the UiPath survey mentioned earlier, only 51% of respondents admit that their companies currently offer automation training. 63% of them provide it during working hours, and 29% outside the workplace.

It's worth mentioning that such businesses have an advantage in the labor market. Offering such skills development often means better career possibilities. With offbeat technology and low-code or no-code RPA approaches, workers can grow with their employer, significantly attracting new talents. And this is the best way for employers to deal with the global labor shortage.

These led us to conclude that it's necessary to provide the new talents and current employees with the best possible experience. It can be done through RPA automation while respecting the company's resources and image.

RPA automation vs. employee engagement

Repetitive tasks automation has one more advantage. From the business perspective, we could say - a virtue. Statistics show that RPA has a positive impact on employee engagement, the lack of which leads to routine, lower productivity, and is an impulse for changing jobs. To some extent, we could say it is an element supporting the current labor shortage.

Gallup's research states that 87% of employees are disengaged with their duties - worldwide. Looking only at the US market, the local companies lose $450 to $550 billion a year in productivity. The problem becomes even more challenging if we combine it with a hard-to-reach workforce.


More so, as the study emphasizes, the companies with engaged crews outperform the competition by 147% in earnings per share and thus are less vulnerable to the shortages in the labor market.

Responding the market demands

So far, we have been focusing only on HR needs, but RPA automation opens an excellent opportunity to "kill many more birds with one stone". Even if we underline that HR processes should be more efficient during the global labor crisis, thus encouraging candidates to focus on the specific company, various industries also fight other battles in the same context.

Many entities experience a slowdown due to global financial problems, disturbed supply chains, and turmoil around the COVID-19 pandemic. Next to them are firms whose dynamic is increasing rapidly for the same reasons, so they need to answer the demand to maintain their competitiveness in the market.

Businesses with a more complex situation and financial uncertainty can benefit from professional, open-source RPA solutions available on the market. On the other hand, companies open to investments can choose the best commercial solutions.

In all cases, RPA helps the business to ensure that new crew members and current employees can work in a stable enterprise with a well-organized and employee-focused environment. At the same time, the company has an opportunity to manage the employees' skills and duties and balance current possibilities with the market's state of affairs. And so, the RPA bots are a factor that allows you to combine these elements efficiently and profitably.

How can RPA automation help various industries?

It is a truism, but different markets struggle with the same issues as HRs, but in greater numbers, on a much bigger scale, and through more complex processes. It's not only about providing more engaging and diverse tasks but also about more disrupting innovations.

Accounting and finance, e-commerce, manufacturing, retail, medicine and health, pharmacy, construction, and much more industries increasingly appreciate the benefits of automation.


Accounting and Finance

Managers or C-suits seek new ways to face the dynamically changing environment in every enterprise. Labor shortages force the management to reduce companies' overdependent on a traditional workforce and solve service deliverydata governanceregulatory compliance, and overall digital transformation problems with a more automated approach.


In this industry, the development is fueled by professional customer service, and with it follows providing the clients with the best possible experiences. And that means a lot of repetitive, tedious tasks: writing, responding, and sending emails, data input, and database maintenance. Let's not forget scheduling, calls, and meetings organizing. And ****finally, equally important - inventory management. These are model activities for software bots, especially during workers' shortfall.


The retailers have one specific saying in their blood, and in their cases, it's exceptionally strong: "Everything changes!" Market conditions, requirements, regulations, and - above all - customer expectations raise the bar regarding efficiency. That translates into improved planningintroducing, and delivering new products to the market. Al these activities also involve all supply chain management issues. Consequently, it implies the need for more automated ventures, including centralization, monitoring, preparations, and management.


Those who grew up with Bob the Builder know that information is the key in this business. Document management became a strategic part of construction operations, apart from crucial materials, tools, and machines. Blueprints, permits, contracts, specifications, plans, schedules, and tons of other papers play a decisive role in the success of any construction project. Also, in the face of labor shortages, turnovers, and work migrations, and thus managing teams.

Pharmaceutical industry

The pharmaceutical industry is an excellent example of the multitude of repetitive tasks performed under specific conditions - from planning to productionquality controlregulatory requirements, and supply management. We should also consider clinical trial managementsupplier onboarding, and drug sales forecasting.

Each operation requires precision and oscillates in a very narrow error range - characteristics for which RPA robots are highly valued.

Many studies, publications, and expert opinions suggest that RPA automation will remain one of the key elements supporting enterprises struggling with the global workforce shortfall. The same applies to the constantly expanding range of applications of this technology and dynamic development in the area of AI, ML, and Big Data. Let’s not forget the growing popularity of low-code and no-code solutions.

Going to the summary

To support that, let's look back to mentioned earlier UiPath survey. 71% of respondents agree that RPA solutions, supported with AI tools and a low-code or no-code approach, help their companies perform better by saving time.

86% believe that automation will allow their employees to conduct less tedious, tactical tasks and more strategic operations.

At the same time, 85% of interviewed executives claimed that higher onboarding and offboarding rates are one of the main challenges for their organizations concerning the global labor shortage. The latter sometimes requires unusual methods to keep the company's pace. For example, the global leader in financial services, J.P. Morgan, started to hire employees with criminal backgrounds to maintain the workforce.

And yet it is an interesting point if we consider that the societies in the developed western countries and China or Japan are aging very quickly. For example, a country like France expects to have nearly 3.9 million workers shortfall by 2050 due to an aging society.

That is another strong argument for embracing RPA automation as a new standard, including the HR teams, rather than just having it on the business radar. Based on available data, no one can argue the benefits of maintaining productivity in the event of personnel shortfall.

Wherever automation has enabled the acceleration of HR processes (especially back-office), HR specialists can spend more time communicating with employees, thus answering today's trends and finding qualified staff, regardless of the labor shortage.

More information on the widely understood RPA automation is available on our blog.

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