Automation and robots

Are you ready for the future of work?

The robots are coming. Heck, they’re already here. But are they really going to steal your job? In lots of cases, yes; or at least aspects of your job. But automation is not necessarily bad news.

We’re experiencing a new wave of technological development that is shaking up all areas of our life, from education, healthcare and business. Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The term, first used by economist Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, refers to a new way of working and living which brings humans and technology closer than ever. According to Schwab, very much like the first three revolutions, the 4IR has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for citizens around the world.

In the future, technological innovation will also lead to a supply-side miracle, with long-term gains in efficiency and productivity. Transportation and communication costs will drop, logistics and global supply chains will become more effective, and the cost of trade will diminish, all of which will open new markets and drive economic growth.

On the flip side, the risk to increase social inequality is very real, with a possible increase of the divide between “low-skill/low-pay” and “high-skill/high-pay” roles. Now more than ever it’s important for Governments to keep this in mind, and to make sure that the necessary regulations are in place to encourage a positive outcome, for example by adopting public policies that will re-distribute the benefits of increased productivity.

So, how is this technology advancement going to affect your job? And what industries are most likely to experience an increase in automation? Let’s have a look.

Automation in the manufacturing industry

A 2019 report by Oxford Economics predicts that up to 20 million manufacturing jobs around the world could be replaced by robots by 2030. Over the past decade, the number of industrial robots has more than doubled and is projected to grow even faster in the next 10 years, with 14 million in China alone.

Robots are becoming a more cost-effective option compared with human labour, especially as they become more and more sophisticated. What makes AI truly powerful is the ability to connect to a shared network and learn from the data collected by other robots. The use of robots has also provided an answer to the constantly increasing demand for manufactured goods, especially for the automotive and the electronics industries.

While most reports predict that automation is going to increase productivity and create new jobs, employers and governments need to start planning ahead and create reskilling opportunities for dislocated workers. This is especially important considering the number of job types which are primary candidates for automation. The natural transition from manufacturing to transport, construction, maintenance, and administration may not always be an option which means that alternative pathways will be required.

Automation in the service sector

The manufacturing industry is not going to be the only one affected. The rate of adoption of robots for services largely depends on how cost-effective this is likely to be. Jobs that are highly structured and repetitive are more likely to be replaced by robots, especially when there is the potential to scale their deployment. 

As AI and machine learning improves, robots are slowly but steadily being adopted in the service sector. Think about a hotel chain with standardised rooms across the country – a robot programmed to vacuum those layouts could be used over and over across multiple hotels. On the other side, service jobs that include more ad hoc and less structured tasks, are less likely to experience any real change in the next few years.

The logistics space seems a natural testing ground for experimenting with the increasing potential of machines due to the highly structured nature of many tasks. Amazon is a prime example for this – the technology giant currently has more than 100,000 robots already deployed in their warehouses around the world, and that’s only the start. You’ve probably heard of their CartonWrap trial, testing a machine by Italian firm CMC Srl that would automate the way their orders get packaged. 

What service jobs are the safest?

Technology is unlikely to replace humans in those jobs that require a high level of “human skills” like compassion, creativity, empathy and emotional intelligence. This includes physical therapists, teachers, dog trainers and social workers. Sometimes a particular activity could be automated from a technical point of view, but customers might not feel comfortable with a machine taking over that particular task – think about hairdressers, while hair-stylist robots have already been tested publicly, most people would never swap their trusted hairdresser for a machine.

In sectors like health and hospitality, we’ll likely see a mixed approach with machines complementing humans’ work, rather than replacing entire jobs. Consider a nurse’s job – a robot might take over routine tasks, like delivering blood samples, but it won’t be able to replace many of the other day-to-day duties that heavily rely on human skills like empathy and emotional intelligence.

It’s not all bad news – what are the benefits of automation?

Hold your horses, don’t let your mind rush to a gloomy, apocalyptic scenario yet. Most researchers and economists agree that automation is going to increase productivity and overall benefit economic growth. It’s predicted that 85% of jobs will be automated to some degree, but only 5% will be eliminated (World Economic Forum). In most cases, it will be a case of redefining what each job looks like, in a similar fashion to what happened to bank tellers when ATMs started to pop-up on every street.

In many cases, automation will be able to enhance workers performance by freeing up their time to focus on higher-value tasks. For example, lawyers are already using text-mining techniques to go through large quantities of documents, to speed up the overall process. This saves them hours of valuable, billable time which can be instead devoted to the more intricate work of interpreting, analysing and crafting a solid case. 

So, how can you get ready for the future of work?

Technology skills will be in high demand, but a greater focus is now being shifted towards what has traditionally been called “soft skills” (although we might be better off referring to them as “essential skills”, or “power skills”). Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients, to name a few, that enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others and achieve their goals. We need to nurture those skills that are intrinsically human, and that can’t be easily automated (not yet at least!). 

Based on the work of futurists, researchers and future-thinking companies such as IDEO, The World Economic Forum and The Economist – we’ve compiled a list of 21 Future Skills focusing on the highly-desirable skills needed for the future of work, including empathy, creativity and the ability to make a decision with incomplete information – see the full list here

Lists are useful, but how can you put it into action? Here are three steps to get you started:

  1. Assess your skills. First of all, it’s important to assess what skills you already have and which ones might need some extra attention. We all have different natural strengths and being aware of them can help direct your efforts. Our Future Skills Assessment is one easy way to audit your skills. Making a list or talking to your peers or colleagues can also be beneficial to gain greater awareness of your strengths and blindspots.
  2. Seek training opportunities. You might decide you want to develop the skills you are currently not too confident in, or perhaps you might decide to follow the opposite approach and further develop your strongest skills, following the Gallup Clifton Strengths Finder. Either way, lifelong learning will be key to succeeding in the future of work. The idea of adding something extra to your already busy life can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Look for flexible learning opportunities that can best suit your schedule. Bootcamps and intensive courses are also great ways to kickstart your training. 
  3. Get your whole team involved. Organisations are now recognising the need to provide upskilling and reskilling opportunities to their employees, so why not get the whole office involved? Invite speakers and coaches to run a lunchtime session in your office, look for on-the-job learning opportunities or book a training day for your whole team.

Not sure where to start? Take the Future Skills Assessment now or get in touch with us.

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