The degree to which robots will take our jobs will largely depend on whether robots can effectively substitute or augment our work.
There are various scenarios at play here that will determine whether robots will take over our jobs:
1. We allow robots to voluntarily substitute our jobs because we are no longer prepared to do the work ourselves. In fact, we are happy for robots to take over our jobs. Examples include military service, car production and manufacturing, space exploration, underwater exploration, duct cleaning, crime fighting, fixing oil spills, investigating hazardous environments, and commercialized agriculture.
2. Robots can be more efficient and effective than humans in doing manual, repetitive, boring, and dangerous tasks. As such, we are involuntarily substituted by robots even when we are still able to work in our jobs. Examples include truck driving, parcel delivery, inventory stocking, and floor cleaning.
3. Robots can be deployed in industries where there are acute labor shortages. There’s no choice but for robots to perform jobs that we don’t have enough qualified people to do the work. This problem will grow exponentially when larger numbers of Baby Boomers retire over the next decade or two. Robots will fill jobs that this generation is abandoning.
4. Robots are deployed in industries where labor cost pressures will dictate the decision to automate. If labor becomes too expensive, then organizations will have no choice but to use lower-cost robots to substitute human labor.
5. We co-develop robots with developers that will augment our work and free us up to do higher value work. This includes decision-making, conceptualizing and analyzing. Instead, robots will co-exist with us in workplaces and transform our jobs into new ones.
6. Robots will not take over our jobs because we cannot teach or program machines effectively to analyze or conceptualize things, be creative and innovative, and be interactive with humans naturally. These are human tasks that cannot be done by robots, yet. Robots cannot look you in the eye, consider peoples’ feelings, moods and behaviors, feel emotional, empathy and sympathy, make a person feel taken care of or loved, establish trust and respect, be an independent critical thinker, and make sense of complicated concepts and the complicated world we live in.
7. We can learn and acquire new skills and change our jobs well before robots take over our jobs. By anticipating these changes and future-proofing our jobs early, we can be future-ready ourselves when robots do eventually come and appear at our door-step. What’s important is to have the skills that can fill an employment vacancy and remain employable.
Let’s stop and think about this for a minute.
Millennials and Gen Z’ers are already changing the job market. They are more motivated by purpose than a paycheck.
Businesses can’t simply throw money at them particularly if they are trying to control costs and maintain profitability levels. It’s no surprise that industries like hospitality, retail and consumer-products are now facing a significant strain in recruiting.
To solve this problem, many countries like the U.S. and Japan are turning to robots to fill many jobs when labor supply falls short. It’s a matter of supply and demand of labor.
Simply put, robots will perform many jobs that people don’t want to do for various reasons. There’s no choice but to rely on robots to replace our jobs.
We voluntary allow robots to replace our jobs.
I can relate to this with my own children. Asking them to clean or mop the floor, or just sweeping the garden can end up in the war of words and regrets later on.
I wish I had a domestic robot to do all these chores!
Let’s take some industry examples.
There’s a growing shortage of truck drivers in the U.S. The trucking industry needs to find and hire over 900,000 new drivers to meet increasing demand. It’s a goal that seems increasingly unachievable given how younger workers are approaching their careers.
That’s why technology companies like Uber are heavily investing in self-driving vehicles. This is critical when there’s a pressing need to transport almost 50 million tons of freight trucked across the country each year.
With the current job climate, robots don’t represent a replacement risk for workers. Drivers will work alongside robots until all human drivers are replaced someday by driverless trucks.
Robots are becoming absolutely critical for solving labor shortages in some industries.
In the restaurant industry, robots are taking over less-desirable tasks like washing dishes and cleaning floors. This has paved the way for employees to develop more technical skills around robot maintenance and fleet management – the high-level stuff.
Robots are, therefore, transforming lower level jobs to higher level jobs.
While old jobs are lost, new jobs are also created.
The net effect of job losses and job creation will depend on where you live, which country and industry you currently work in, your occupation, your level of skills and experience, and your employer’s capability and capacity to automate using robots.
In construction, another industry facing a significant labor shortage, robots are filling the gap in roles like welding. Not coincidentally, construction companies are recruiting for new types of job positions that specifically oversee cutting edge hardware.
U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs employed over 600 stock traders at its peak. Thanks to machine-learning algorithms capable of making complex trades, these 600 traders have been reduced to just two. Instead, about one-third of its workforce is now employed as computer engineers.
At the individual level, robots will take our jobs if we have not adequately future-proofed ourselves and proactively planned for the inevitable presence of robots in the workplace.
Here’s the problem.
We have embraced technology in our lives that we are so thirsty for more. That same thirst for technology will also impact our job security. It’s a two-edged sword that we need to manage.
It is a fact that there is high employment in some industries and there will be high unemployment in other industries.
Our thirst for technology has effectively “re-balancing” or transformed jobs across many organizations, occupations, industries, and countries.
The ease by which labor can freely move across country borders and organizational boundaries can mitigate the impact of job losses if we are prepared to move and stay elsewhere or do different things.
Using the example given above, rather than looking for welders or people with welding skills, construction companies are now looking for people with technical skills and experience to operate high-tech cutting-edge hardware for automated welding.
There will be complexity involved in operating these cutting-edge machines. There will be higher level training needed to up-skill operators to competently operate such machines.
It’s assumed that people with welding skills are now expected to be retrained and to acquire new competencies about automated welding machines if they still want to remain in their occupation.
These welders must be mentally and intellectually capable to absorb new high tech learning. If they cannot “take in” new information and knowledge, then robots will certainly replace their jobs and they will be out of work.
In this scenario, the speed by which career welders have to acquire new skills can be very fast. If they cannot up-skill within a short period of time, then their jobs will definitely be lost to robots or to other people who can acquire new skills faster than them.
The rate of absorption of new skills and knowledge is therefore critical to protect our jobs from robots.
The bottom line is that complacency will kill jobs.
A head-in-the-sand mentality will not help any worker who is faced with the prospect of robots taking over their jobs.
It’s not a question of if, but when.
It’s inevitable; robots are coming for our jobs!
Be prepared for it.