Robots working on a production line

Rise of the robots – The people’s view on Robots and automation.

"800 million global workers will lose their jobs and be replaced by robotic automation by 2030."

This was a BBC News headline in November 2017, sparked from a study carried out by the McKinsey Global Institute into 46 countries and 800 occupations. The report detailed that the richest countries such as Germany and the US would be the most affected by automation displacing workers as they have the funds to devote to automation development and implementation. 

Jobs such as Warehouse Operatives, Machine Operators and Food Production workers are predicted to be the most likely roles to be displaced but it is not only the warehousing and production industries that are in line to be revolutionised. Accountants, mortgage brokers and administrative roles are also predicted to be vulnerable to automation in the future. 

With headlines and reports like these is there any wonder that people are concerned. The initial reaction to such a bold prediction would quite rightly be to fear for your job security, or even your children’s future job security but as it turns out, people’s concerns actually extend far beyond themselves. 

We asked a focus group of 12 individuals, all from varying backgrounds and professions what their concerns are surrounding the prospect of robotic automation, as opposed to human workers becoming the norm in society. Their answers turned out to be pretty surprising!

Aside from the loss of jobs, what are people most concerned about? 

1. Unpredictable robots

Thanks to Hollywood we have a slightly paranoid view on the possibility of rogue robots staging a revolution and taking over the world as we know it. 

2. Potential for complete shutdown

If a human staff member is off work sick, it is unlikely that this will affect the entire workforce and cause a catastrophic shut down. Can the same be said for robots? Could a system failure potentially affect all of the automation in a factory resulting in a complete shutdown of a facility, incurring devastating financial losses, creating a breakdown in the fulfilment chain and many more far reaching implications. 

3. Increased maintenance costs

Has anyone done the maths on what the cost of not only implementing this automation to start with is, but also the cost of ongoing maintenance, life costs, upgrades and repairs that could be incurred by businesses who have taken the leap? With so much money being invested and earmarked for automation, how will this affect the pay rates for the higher tier staff that get to keep their jobs or for the staff retraining into alternative roles? 

4. Best of British is no more

Sentimentality and patriotism gain big bonus points with consumers and price tags often reflecting this. But if products are no longer created with human hands, could products that boast their home grown or hand-made origins soon be a thing of the past? 

5. Demise of the team culture

Is the office Christmas party of the year 2030 going to be a lone Robotics Mechanic toasting to an empty room while his only colleagues, the robots continue on with their work oblivious to the festivities?

Ok so this maybe a little far fetched but a genuine public concern is for the future of our team working, collaborative, family culture that exists throughout our workforces, will this soon become a distant memory? 

6. Environmental Impact

Environmental concerns are a hot topic right now and thoughts are turning to the little considered impact that automation could have. 

If automation is set to make production faster and easier, it would follow that products have the potential to become cheaper for the consumer. Will this lead to an increase in consumerism and a disposable culture? If so, we could soon be experiencing a worrying spike in the already high volume of waste we produce, not only as a nation but globally. Where are we going to put it all?  

On the face of it the landscape looks bleak indeed but is there more to automation than meets the eye, are there also some positives to come out of it? Some people seem to think so:

Robotic automation – What are the positives?

1. Health & Safety

A fully automated environment is potentially a safer environment for staff. With less reliance on workers to keep up with consumer demand, long shifts in typically physically demanding roles, such as Warehouse Operatives, Production Operatives, Picker/Packers and beyond, will become a thing of the past. Working alongside robots could see a dramatic reduction not only in the number of workplace accidents but also in the reports of stress related illnesses, attributed to stressful and high pressure working environments.  

2. Career Development

As workers find themselves moving into alternative roles as the opportunities for career development potentially increase. People will naturally start to explore their potential in previously unconsidered roles, returning to higher education, re-training to gain new skills or licenses and in many cases, opting for complete career changes. A shake up of the workforce could be just what is needed to refresh our aspirations

3. Emerging & Renewed Roles

We have come a long way since the global fear of the Millennium Bug. Computers have been seamlessly integrated into our day to day lives. Even our in-school curriculums have developed to accommodate with computer science and coding lessons becoming the norm in many schools. We are now creating opportunities for children from all walks of life, far beyond what any of us could have predicted. Will we see exciting opportunities for robotics and mechanics being added to our curriculums too? 

We can only hope that we will also see a renewed focus on the importance of manual trades, policing, armed forces and medicine to bolster our depleted workforces in industries that are likely to be largely unaffected by automation. 

Pro’s or con’s, for or against, nothing can stand in the way of progress and like it or not the prospect of robotic automation replacing some of our jobs, and displacing our workers is not going to go away. 

While some may foresee a dramatic decline in work opportunities, other see a positive opportunity for humans and robots to work together, placing logistics and warehousing at the forefront for technological advances and work place development.

As discussed in a previous post, perhaps the question shouldn’t be “Are robots taking our jobs?” instead it should be “How can I develop my skills to work alongside technology?”

If you want to know the answer, click here to see 3 great ways you can upskill to make sure you are robot ready. 

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