Automation – Has it accelerated?

Automation has been a huge topic in recent years. Research has highlighted the growth of automation and its potential impact on industries like retail, hospitality, manufacturing, and more. Recent events of COVID-19 appears to have accelerated automation growth. Previously, governments and commentators spoke of a digital skills gap. Changes brought about from this pandemic may change that skills gap into a gorge. 

As automation grows, roles change

Before the Coronavirus, the world knew that automation was making its way into more industries. History has always shown us that as technology improves, roles change. For example, we no longer rely on typists to ensure that a memo gets written. With the accessibility of computers and the fact that most people can now type, the traditional typist role disappeared. However, technology has advanced since then, and more tasks can be automated. 

Many research papers have indicated that sectors such as hospitality and manufacturing, would be impacted by automation. However, with most of the world currently working from home, this process may occur sooner than anyone had imagined. 

Perhaps automation took so long in some industries due to the cost of building technologies. This would be more connected with the short term cost as opposed to the long term benefits. However, with most industries forced to shut down since March 2020, many lessons have been learned. 

Serious questions

The industries mentioned above happen to be among those that have suffered the most during this pandemic. Serious questions about what to do if anything like this occurs in the future will be asked. As governments talk about mass unemployment and unprecedented recessions, businesses will be working hard to ensure that they are future-proofed.

So, what does this mean for people in these industries? Well, many commentators say these industries will change sooner rather than later. They point towards the massive need for upskilling. Of course, this would make sense. As industries require more technology, they will need people to build it, maintain it, update it, and operate it.  

In a recent Financial Times series about a post-COVID-19 future, Carl Benedikt Frey, Director of the Future of Work programme at the Oxford Martin School, said, “with jobless claims rising at record rates and the world economy shrinking, automation anxiety looks set to witness a revival — and with good reason. Coronavirus is likely to accelerate automation.”

Social distancing

Recently-introduced social distancing rules appear as if they’ll be here for some time. Scientists, governments and health experts are indicating that they will be in effect throughout some of 2021. Effectively, as we all know by now, this means less physical interactions. Therefore, as part of automation acceleration, we will also see an increase in the use of robotics. 

The use of robots has increased since the arrival of COVID-19, with robotics used in some countries for measuring temperatures. Likewise, the BBC has reported how robots are now in use in cleaning shops and hospitals. Until now, these were primarily roles that were undertaken by humans. The same article says that “as more businesses re-open we can expect to see further adoption of this technology. You may see robots cleaning your schools or offices.”

Increased automation

Even McDonald’s is upping its automation game. In June 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported how McDonald’s were “designing voice-activated drive-throughs and robotic deep-fryers as the burger giant works to streamline its menu and operations to speed up service”. Will McDonald’s, who has closed many of its franchises temporarily, start implementing this technology on a broader scale? If they do, what does it mean for those who they employ?

The New York Times reported on 10 April that there was a significant increase in robotics in the waste industry. They say, that “since the coronavirus took hold in the United States last month, AMP Robotics has seen a ‘significant’ increase in orders for its robots that use artificial intelligence to sift through recycled material, weeding out trash”. MarketWatch highlights more innovations that are on the way too. 

Accelerated Automation

A recent Forbes article asks if current economic turmoil could be less had more automation been in place. The same report also quotes research by Oxford Economics that predicted that “12.5 million manufacturing jobs will be automated in China by 2030.”  

Similarly, a 2019 Irish Government report reckoned that 46,000 jobs would be at risk from the adoption of digital technologies over the next five years. In 2017, a PWC report looked at the value of A.I. for businesses. Further information based on that report indicated that by the mid-2030s as many as 30% of current U.K. jobs and 31% of Dutch roles would be automated. The same source suggested that 25% of positions in Sweden would be automated at the same time. The big question now is whether or not COVID-19 has now shortened those timelines?  

Another staggering statistic comes from the World Economic Forum. In their “Future of Jobs Report 2020“, which was published in October 2020, they predict that between now and 2025, as many as 85 million existing jobs will be displaced by technology. However, they also predict that these roles will be replaced by 97 million roles that have a higher focus on digital skills.

So what’s the recommendation for the future? 

Well, according to PwC’s COVID-19 CFO Pulse report on 28 April 2020, finance leaders are already looking at automation. 46% of CFOs who participated “plan to accelerate automation and other new ways of working”. So, the consensus would seem to be that automation is accelerating. The recommendation from some is to ask governments to introduce new upskilling policies and funding. 

Marvin Krislov of Forbes says that in the U.S., the Government should introduce a Bill to help upskill workers. Not only to prepare for automation but to ensure that more people can work from home. CNBC quoted Karen Fichuk, CEO of Randstad North America, who said that there “is this significant need for massive up-skilling and retraining, especially for workers who have been laid off.” 

Automation is not necessarily a bad thing. In pandemics like this, it could keep many businesses ticking over. However, there is now an urgency in upskilling those who are in roles that can be automated. The world is changing – rapidly. We need to change with it.

Software developer demand

One role that will stay in demand in the future of work is software development. Programming will continue to be essential to solve problems and to manage A.I., R.P.A., automation and more. Even now, as the pandemic lingers, many developers are landing roles. In its very nature, it is suitable for remote work. Join us at our next webinar to find out more about the opportunities available to software developers around the world. Register now through the form below.

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