Ten years ago, predictions were everywhere that robots were going to take over all our jobs. More recently, we have started to see a more nuanced approach to the subject. Yes, they will take some. But it’s also likely they’ll create some as well.
What hasn’t changed is the sense that radical changes are on the way for most people’s working lives – the key is to understand which areas will be hardest hit and to prepare well in advance.
So which jobs are most under threat – and will robots also create jobs?
- Driving jobs
- Manufacturing jobs
- Retail jobs
- Management jobs
- Creation of new jobs
1. The threat to driving jobs
This is usually the first area mentioned when we look at automation taking over human work. One report suggested that in the UK alone over one million driving jobs were at risk due to automation. A similar study in the US suggested that autonomous cars would take away around 300,000 driving jobs per year.
Daily news updates seem to back up these claims, with Dubai testing self-driving taxis and Amazon working on delivery drones.
But what needs to be remembered is that we’re still a long way off from a complete replacement. These predictions have been around for many years when it comes to driving, and we’re still yet to see real change.
But it’s important to be ready. As a general rule, it breaks down like this – starting with the driving jobs most at risk, ending with the least:
- Delivery driver
- Waste disposal truck driver
- HGV driver
- Van driver
- Taxi driver
- Bus driver
- Forklift driver
- Food delivery driver
- Limo driver
- Moving van driver
2. The threat to manufacturing jobs
Research suggests that around 20 million manufacturing jobs globally could be replaced by robots over the next 10 years. Another study predicts that with each new industrial robot, approximately 1.6 manufacturing jobs disappear.
There are three key issues to remember here:
- Lower skilled workers will be the most affected. The degree of ‘replacement by robot’ will be much higher for this group.
- After losing a job, these lower skilled workers might normally be likely to look for work in construction or transport – areas which are also going to be hit by automation.
- Some regions will be hit harder than others. In south-east Asia, over half the entire workforce could lose their jobs to automation due to the fact that there’s a very high proportion of people working in garment manufacturing.
So this threat will change considerably depending on how skilled the workforce is, and how much the country or region relies on manufacturing. The UAE’s backing of entrepreneurship might be part of a solution here, as well as constant upskilling for workers.
3. The threat to retail
Predictions are that robots will replace more than half a million retail jobs in the UK over the next five years – with this trend likely to be replicated globally. What’s perhaps most concerning is the UAE’s reliance on retail, and how that will affect workers throughout the Emirates.
You only need to look at the automated check-outs in supermarkets to know things have changed – but we’re now seeing automation in retail go a step further here in Dubai. For example, Majid Al Futtaim Retail recently employed a robot at its Carrefour supermarket which can scan items on shelves and report anything missing or incorrectly marked.
Interestingly, this robot hasn’t actually taken a human job. In fact, surveys have shown a great deal of optimism around job losses being compensated in retail – with more digitally-focused roles replacing traditional ones.
So the impact to retail may be a reorganisation of roles, instead of a reduction.
Only time will tell.
4. The threat to management
Before we even realised, robots became managers. While the focus was on the traditional areas such as retail and manufacturing, it’s management where we’re already feeling the change due to robots and AI.
It’s come at a time when companies have become more methodical in how they evaluate their workers and how they examine company-wide metrics.
Key areas affected include:
- Hospitality – giving instructions and monitoring house keepers
- IT – adjusting pay depending on employee’s speed of work
- Customer service – listening in to call centre workers
- Warehouse management – analysing staff performance and work rate
In the example of warehousing, we’re already seeing more robots being used on the ‘shop floor’, with managers often locked away looking at data on employee performance. For the worker, it changes the environment into one that is much less friendly and much less ‘human’ – as recent news stories on warehouse automation have sensationally shown us.
5. Creation of new jobs
One study that investigated the impact of robots on three key industries – manufacturing, agriculture, utilities – concluded that robots reduced the hours of lower-skilled workers without reducing the total hours that they worked.
Which is good news.
What’s important is that there is constant upskilling – so when we see changes on the horizon the workforce is ready. If this is the case, then those who have lost jobs are ready for the new roles that are created.
And upskilling isn’t a one-off, it’s a constant process. It’s about being agile and being ready. In fact, there was one study that showed that while robots would displace 75 million jobs around the world over the next twelve years, it would simultaneously create 133 million new jobs.
So maybe robots won’t be the end of us after all.
If you’re interested in working in robotics and AI, then Smart Dubai is a great place to start. Hailed as a ‘first-of-its-kind Artificial Intelligence lab’, its goal is to accelerate Dubai towards becoming the smartest city in the world. It boasts a number of initiatives including an AI lab and startup support.
There is also a ‘UAE AI & Robotics Award for Good’ celebrating innovative solutions in health, education and social services. While the US leads the way with AI and robotics, notably Boston Dynamics whose regular updates continually astound, the UAE is aiming high and making strong moves in the right direction.
So when it comes to deciding where to set up your AI/robotics company, the good news is that there is much to choose from including Dubai Mainland and Fujairah creative City Free Zone.