Automation booms after covid

Sunday, September 12, 2021

You could be communicating with a robot a lot more than you realise.

In recent years, huge progress in technology has led to automation rapidly getting rolled out into many areas of our day to day lives. You could be trouble shooting some technical issues with a device, or even ordering a drive through meal, without talking to a person. Instead, artificial intelligence assistants are capable of handling these processes now.

There has been a lot that we haven’t been able to predict in the last couple years. The coronavirus pandemic has turned many industries upside down and also made space for other things to find a place in our lives. One of the elements people didn’t necessarily see coming from Covid was the increase in automation that has occurred.

In the US, there is some real concern that the damage of the pandemic is not only health related, but many jobs are in danger too. The pandemic forced businesses to deal with a shortage of workers and increased labour costs, one of their solutions for this was to turn to automation. Surprisingly for some, the service sector jobs were also at risk, these were thought to not be at risk from automation because it was assumed that people would prefer to communicate with a person.

There are two sides to this argument and historically there has actually been more jobs created from automation than is lost. However, the jobs that tend to be wiped out are the lower skilled jobs which many low-income employees rely on.

In the ideal scenario, automation is able to redistribute a workforce into work that is often thought of as more interesting, or at least of more value to an employer. For this to happen though, there needs to be enough training for the staff to be able to move into their new roles effectively. This training is vital for people to find alternative jobs and not lose out to robots.

Some examples of areas that robot technology is moving into are creating and tossing pizza dough, moving linens around hospitals, sorting out goods, and inspecting gauges. It has long been known that automation is completely overhauling the manufacturing industry, but these jobs just mentioned were part of the services industry that many previously believed would be untouched by automation. However, the pandemic has increased the use of automation in these areas. Companies can use an automated process and know that the machine won’t get ill, or need to request unexpected time off. Jobs that are predicted as being at risk include salesclerks, administrative assistants, cashiers, hospital aides, and people who take care of the ill and elderly. 

Even so, there is a growing trend that companies are looking to use machines more and more. A survey by the nonprofit World Economic Forum found that 43% of companies planned to lower the amount of people that worked for them because of emerging technologies. Coupled with this, from the second quarter of 2020, there has been a 26% growth in business investment in equipment.

The area predicted to grow the fastest is roving machines, these are pieces of equipment that can clean floors in areas like warehouses, hospitals and supermarkets. There is also potential for robots that offer shopping information and hotel room service delivery robots to be successful. One of the most visible areas that robots have entered into our lives is the restaurant trade and there are even machines that will cook vegetables, grains, and sprouts, as well as plating them up.

In March and April 2020, the US economy lost 22.4 million jobs when the pandemic got hold of the country. However since then, the jobs market has come back strongly. The difficulty is that employers are struggling to find enough staff, even with the rise in automation. It seems that there has been an increased amount of spending by consumers too, which has helped companies bounce back from the pandemic.

For the moment, it seems like the return of spending and the boom for many businesses has outweighed the job losses that have so far come from automation. Time will tell if this is always the case though, because the job losses from automation build up over a number of years.