Are robots the future

LEAD Innovation Blog

Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other forms of automation are advancing rapidly and bring companies great advantages in terms of efficiency and productivity. For advanced economies such as the US, EU and Japan, automation could be the key to reversing the slump in productivity growth seen since the global financial crisis. Read in this article how robotics will affect employment in the individual sectors.

Which jobs are threatened by automation and how much?

Our way of working will change massively as part of the digital transformation and in the future will be completely different than before. Professions with a high potential for substitution are particularly at risk - that is, professions with a high proportion of recurring standard processes and tasks that can be easily learned and implemented by robots. In the case of occupations with a low potential for substitution, however, creativity and flexibility are required. The coming years will therefore be shaped by four professional spheres:

  • Jobs that can be fully automated and are therefore no longer needed (e.g. production workers, miners, shelf attendants, harvest workers, truck drivers, office jobs, accounting).
  • Jobs whose content changes digitally and / or redefines (e.g. retail salesman to e-commerce specialist, precision engineering professions)
  • Jobs that are emerging (data analysts and scientists, software and application developers, marketing experts, drone operators)
  • Jobs that require close contact with people and therefore only have a low potential for substitution (e.g. social professions, health professions, teachers, artists and musicians)

Accordingly, jobs in the low-wage sector in particular will be affected by automation, for the exercise of which neither special qualifications nor particularly good interaction with people is required. People who have little education and earn little money run the risk of losing their jobs. The situation is different for people who earn above average. Studies in the USA show that employees with an hourly wage of $ 30 or more are hardly affected by automation.


The robot revolution creates an enormous need for further training

The effects of robotics are therefore always an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. On the one hand, the technology brings productivity advantages, on the other hand, it also poses a threat to jobs. At 71 percent of the working hours, humans still work significantly more than machines. But according to the World Economic Forum, robots should overtake humans as early as 2025. Then they work longer than humans for the first time (52 to 48 percent).

The new industrial revolution could cost 75 million people the job by 2022. This is the conclusion of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its study "The future of jobs 2018". At the same time, the WEF estimates that 133 million jobs will be created in the same period. According to the World Economic Forum, there is a lot of educational and training work waiting for politics and business - especially with regard to the shortage of skilled workers. By 2022, everyone should expect an average of 101 additional learning days.


Advanced robotics in production and logistics

Advanced Robotics is considered to be a key technology for the automated factory of the future. It is estimated that the market will grow by a total of 46 percent by 2021, increasing to a volume of 3.7 billion US dollars for production tasks alone.

From industrial robots to autonomously acting robots

Compared to normal industrial robots, the advanced robots react to their environment and act autonomously. You can therefore take on tasks that were performed by humans. An example of this are robots that handle the entire order picking process. They receive their orders via WLAN, navigate autonomously to the corresponding shelf, recognize the right object via their cameras and sensors, grab it and transport it for further processing. In contrast to conventional industrial robots, their path and handling is not predetermined, but adapts independently to the respective situation.

Impact of Advanced Robotics on Workplaces

In the current study "Advanced Robotics in the Factory of the Future", the Boston Consulting Group ascertained how this advanced robot technology will affect the world of work. Executives as well as production and technology managers from more than 1,300 large corporations and medium-sized companies from various industries worldwide were surveyed.

The results show that industrial companies, especially in EU countries such as Germany, France and Austria, see the opportunities offered by the new technology above all and assume that fewer jobs will be cut than less developed countries such as China or Poland.

Around 20 percent of those surveyed in China and Poland believe that the use of robots can save more than 20 percent of jobs in production. In Austria this value is five percent, in Germany two percent. 31 and 32 percent in Germany and Austria, respectively, expect a moderate reduction of 5 to 10 percent of jobs by 2025. This is mainly due to the high degree of automation in Germany or Austria, while in China and Poland many standardized activities are still being replaced by automation can be.

Productivity gains and new job profiles

Routine tasks will be automated in the future, but at the same time new job profiles will emerge that require new skills:

  • Jobs that primarily involve manual, routine work (e.g. loading and unloading machines) are most likely to be fully automated in the future.
  • For orders that include both routine tasks and development work, the proportion of development work (e.g. maintenance and production control) increases.
  • As manual labor shifts to non-routine tasks, workers need to acquire more advanced skills.
  • New professional groups will emerge when the technological takeover brings with it new needs.
  • The human role will shift to tasks that require technical and soft skills (e.g. the ability to take initiative). For example, technicians are primarily concerned with errors that automated systems cannot handle.

Effects of robotics in other industries

As already briefly noted, in contrast to the first industrial revolution, it is not just the jobs of workers that are at risk. Soon, robots will also take on more and more tasks in the salaried area.

On the basis of a data set compiled by the OECD, which examines the tasks associated with the employment of more than 200,000 employees in 29 countries, PwC estimated the proportion of existing jobs in the context of the study “Will robots really steal our jobs?” there could be a high automation risk by 2030. PwC not only identifies significant differences in the potential degree of automation between the industries, but also high automation potential in sectors such as administration, financial services, trade and science. PwC assumes a development over the period up to the 2030s in three overlapping waves:

  1. Algorithm Wave: focuses on automating simple computing tasks and analyzing structured data in areas such as finance, information and communication - this is already well underway.
  2. Wave of augmentation: automating repeatable tasks like filling out forms, communicating and sharing information through dynamic technological support, and statistical analysis of unstructured data in semi-controlled environments like drones and robots in warehouses - this is also ongoing but is likely to begin in the 2020s come to full maturity.
  3. Wave of Autonomy: these technologies focus on automating physical work and manual dexterity, as well as problem solving in dynamic real world situations where responsive actions are required, e.g. B. in manufacturing and in the transport sector (e.g. driverless vehicles) - this wave is likely to reach full maturity on a macroeconomic scale only in the 2030s.

The study also examined the automation potentials of the individual waves in relation to the respective employee group according to educational level, age and gender.

The greatest differences can be seen in terms of the level of education. Accordingly, significantly lower potential automation rates are to be expected for highly qualified employees with a university degree than for employees with a low to medium level of education. The reasons cited are the greater adaptability of better educated workers to technological change and the fact that they are more likely to hold managerial positions that are still necessary for the application of human judgment and the design and monitoring of AI-based systems.

Age group differences are less pronounced, although older workers may find it more difficult to adapt and retrain than younger cohorts. This is especially true for less well-educated men, as the areas of transport and production, in which a relatively high proportion of male workers are currently employed, are entering the third wave of autonomous automation. However, in the early waves of automation that apply to office workers, for example, women could be proportionally more affected.

Conclusion: Robotics changes the labor market and does not destroy it

Robot automation is unlikely to destroy the job market - at least in terms of the net number of jobs. However, jobs are subject to massive changes. Robotics will certainly pose a threat, especially for people in the low-wage sector with little training, whose jobs are most affected by automation. Companies must therefore adapt quickly to these changes and (re) train and train their employees in order to remain competitive in a few years.

You can read more about this topic in our blog post:

"Do robots take the work away from us or just do it".