The Rise of the Robots: Is Your Job at Risk?

The Rise of the Robots: Is Your Job at Risk?

A recent article in The Australian Financial Review raised the alarm: “government and corporate Australia is spectacularly unprepared for automation.” We should sit up and take notice. Robots are on the rise in the workforce across industry sectors throughout the world. And there are studies to support this trend. According to a report published by Citibank and Oxford University in January 2016, 47% of US jobs are at risk from automation. This figure rises to a staggering 77% for jobs in China; across the OECD, the average is 57%. Concerned? Check out whether your job is at risk with this fantastic new online tool from research house AlphaBeta.

Robots are able to perform a variety of routine tasks. We’re probably all aware of their impact in the manufacturing industry, where state-of-the-art machines pick, pack, assemble, weld, paint, spray … and so much more. But, artificial intelligence (AI) is making important inroads in non-routine and cognitive tasks, too. Machines are increasingly used in the legal industry to analyse mountains of legal documentation; software is used to by doctors to assist in making diagnoses; in the recruitment industry, systems can replace humans in screening job applications.

So are we moving towards a world where robots do all the work while we humans sit back and twiddle our thumbs?

Experts suggest this is unlikely. David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology explains that automation actually increases the need for human workers to complete other tasks that have not been automated. So will robots end up creating more jobs for humans than they replace? This may be the case in certain industry sectors, as the same article notes. In the US, for example, legal documentation analysis is traditionally carried out by paralegals or legal clerks. Automation of this process, however, has not led to the expected reduction in these professions. In fact, by reducing the cost of a previously labour-intensive role, automation has increased the demand for the service. The number of paralegals and legal clerks in the US increased by 1.1% in the 2000-2013 period. Similarly, the rise of e-commerce has increased consumer demand and purchases, helping to boost human employment in retail.

The important next step for the government and corporate Australia is to upskill workers to perform tasks that have not been automated. Whereas previously employees could move from one routine job to another, we now need to provide them with the skills to adapt to a working environment that is constantly changing. There needs to be an emphasis on lifelong learning, focussing on those skills that robots do not – and are unlikely to ever – possess. We should be promoting creativity and soft skills, such as communication, self-motivation, self-confidence, relationship building, empathy, and last but not least, flexibility.

Of course, if we can’t beat them, why not join them? The robots, that is. There is still a need for human input in designing, developing and supporting artificial intelligence. At least for the time being …