Will a robot replace your job? Admit it: you’ve asked yourself this, or at least wondered about it, recently. This question seemed to reach an anxiety pitch point in 2017. Many mainstream publications – from The New York Times and The Guardian to The New Republic and Mother Jones – grappled with this issue. There was so much noise and competing information the MIT Technology Review did a meta-analysis to keep tabs on all the predictions, from the optimistic to the devastating.
There’s no doubt workplace automation will transform the economy, and yes, eliminate some jobs. The real question, though, is how many jobs will workforce technology replace and how many will it transform?
Meet Stan: the robotic valet
The panic over workforce technology gained ground after a 2013 study from Oxford University, which said 47 per cent of US jobs will be automated in the next few decades. This was followed by a flurry of other studies, including a McKinsey report that suggested 400-800 million jobs worldwide could be automated by 2030.
The studies are all over the map, but few balance lost jobs with how many new jobs workplace automation could create. For example, a handful of airport parking garages have adopted robotic valet parking over the past few years. At Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, “Stan” is a wheeled robot created by Stanley Robotics that lifts your car off the ground, takes it to a parking space and brings it back when you return.
Stan may eliminate human valet jobs, but it also creates jobs, because humans need to maintain the equipment. These jobs are transformed – not replaced. Moreover, automation could actually spur the growth of new jobs and responsibilities.
Get ready for transformation in every sector
Continuing in the vehicular line, consider self-driving cars. On the one hand, the prospect of self-driving cars hitting the road leads to concerns about the auto industry, fuel stations and the millions of people, like taxi drivers and lorry drivers, who make a living behind the wheel. On the other hand, self-driving cars could add a whopping $7 trillion to the global economy. Workforce technology may reduce the need for taxi and truck drivers, but it will increase the need for analysing massive amounts of data generated by cars, as well as people to service and maintain those vehicles.
Manufacturing is also at the forefront of concerns around workforce technology. Any human worker who performs manual, routine tasks, such as those in a factory or warehouse, faces the risk of having their job automated away. It’s already possible for manufacturing businesses to automate most of their workflows – but the machines will still need to be guided by humans. The same is true for fast-food and fast-casual restaurants. Food companies are actively exploring how to automate the cooking and serving process. With the money they save from lower labour costs per location, however, they could open new locations and not decrease the staff footprint overall.
Drones also bring up questions about workplace automation. Back in 2013, Jeff Bezos told US investigative news programme 60 Minutes that Amazon was experimenting with drone delivery for packages. Could this lessen demand for human delivery workers? Sure, but programmes are popping up to train commercial drone pilots.
Embrace change – for the better
In each of these examples, advanced technology takes over jobs and tasks while also creating new ones, but it’s not a simple one-to-one exchange. New jobs could ultimately prove more valuable, adding directly to the bottom line. Automation in the workforce can positively transform jobs by replacing manual tasks with higher-level ones, making operations more efficient. Each worker’s bandwidth is freed up to focus on growing the company.
IT is a prime example. IT help desks spend 15-20 per cent of their time addressing printing issues, which adds to their pipeline and slows down their capacity to address other areas. Printers can also suck up time when they aren’t secured properly – leave one vulnerability overlooked, and a breach can wreak havoc on your organisation. By teaming up with a managed print services provider you can analyse your print environment and optimise your workflows for maximum efficiency. They’ll help you tackle the time-consuming aspects of revamping your resources and provide you with printers that offer automated security features to scan the network for unusual behaviour, shut down if a threat is identified and self-heal from an attack.
In other words, a services provider can remove the need for your IT team to constantly monitor and manage the print environment, which allows you to worry less about putting out fires and focus more on the big-picture security strategy, as well as more impactful IT projects. You can use all that saved time to identify new initiatives and technologies that could enhance the business. Rather than eliminating IT jobs, workplace automation like this – and in all its other forms – makes IT workers’ jobs better by enhancing productivity and efficiency overall.
Workforce technology is a force to be reckoned with – by business leaders, politicians, schools and workers. Change is coming, and the transition may not always be easy, but automation will ultimately open up new opportunities, and that’s something every sector of the economy can get excited about.