The prevailing view in modern media seems to be that the increasing presence of robotics in our world will only be detrimental to the numbers of human workers, with the hand-wringing over the idea of ‘robots stealing jobs’ almost ubiquitous. However, more and more theorists are now speaking out to indicate that the truth could be quite the opposite.
Far from taking jobs away, there is increasing conviction that growing numbers of robots will fit into many of our existing jobs to make them better as well as creating a whole new range of jobs in their own right. The hardest change we face is likely to be a less obvious one; a change in the attitudes of the human workforce itself.
The fear of change and the impact that technological advancements could have on our lives, particularly our working lives, is nothing new. The introduction of the automated cash machine was once gloomily foretold to be the end of line for bank clerks, but since their widespread introduction, there are more bank clerks than ever. More recently, the arrival of the internet and the associated growth of digital technologies was predicted to decimate many job sectors, but instead has created a thriving arena of job titles of its own, from network administrators to web developers.
We cannot deny that the rise in robotics will impact on our working lives, but we need to accept that, contrary to the messages being communicated by many media sources, this impact will not necessarily be negative.
Scenario 1 – Enhancing our working lives
In the first likely scenario most jobs will still exist, but the way we do them will change.
If we break each job down in terms of the tasks we perform every day, it’s clear that some would be far easier to automate than others. If we were to automate the most basic elements of a job, such as stamping several forms a day, the job is still in existence but a dull, mundane and repetitive part of it is now handled by a robotic assistant allowing the person in the role to focus more on the other aspects of their job.
Studies have predicted that 60 per cent of today’s jobs will be affected by the new technology along these lines, with around a third of all tasks performed within these roles being either fully eliminated or altered forever. So although the job is still there, robotics will mean it is fundamentally changed – in almost all cases, for the better.
Scenario 2 – Creating new opportunities
In the second likely scenario, a whole new catalogue of jobs will be created by the growing robotic element of the workforce and the need to design, install, manage and maintain them. Some of these roles already exist but we will begin to see them in far greater numbers.
These include electrical maintenance engineers, design engineers, robot programmers and software developers. Of course as the technology continues to develop and change we will see more and more specialised roles, the emergence of jobs that we can’t even envision yet.
To make the most of these changes, we must be prepared to embrace them rather than fear and resist them. So, assuming predictions are correct, how can we best deal with the constantly shifting nature of our jobs and the influx of completely new jobs to come?
Some propose that our best option is to revise the way we think of learning and be willing to change our attitudes so it is accepted as a lifelong thing, not something that ends when we leave school. In a fast changing world we must be prepared to adapt ourselves. We must be able to identify when our jobs are likely to evolve or, on occasion, become obsolete and we must become continually responsive, learning the skills that allow us to move into a new role or continue to do our old job in its new form.
The biggest challenge for an automated working environment may be our own reluctance to change with the world around us, rather than the machines and robotics themselves. If we accept that they have much to offer to enrich our working lives, rather than destroy them, we can reap the benefits and enjoy more fulfilling and interesting careers.
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