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Robots: Employees in disguise?


If you believe the many, many headlines of recent days and months, the robots are coming and they’ve got eyes on everybody’s jobs. From the often-cited Oxford University research from 2013 which found around 47 per cent of US jobs were “at risk” because of computerisation, to the 2015 Deloitte report which suggested 35 per cent of UK jobs were at “high risk” of automation in the next 10 to 20 years, there seems to be plenty of talk of the robots taking over roles.


There is, of course, some historical precedent of such an occurrence. The Industrial Revolution of the Eighteenth Century, driven by machinery and steam power, led to rapid workforce changes as automation made whole work roles entirely obsolete. New technology changed the way that products were made, and pushed whole professions to seek out different employment.


So in an age of artificial intelligence and self-driving cars, is the march of the robots set to do to today’s workforce what powered machinery did to 19th century textile workers?


One argument goes that any technology that improves productivity and, by consequence, profitability, will always be adopted by organisations at the expense of at least some workers. In economic theory that compensates this effect is that the workers who are left – those needed to run, maintain and develop the machines – will be higher-paid, more productive and, consequently, become an important driver of economic growth in other sectors.


Preparing for tomorrow


Existing workers also need to have the right blend of skills and education needed for a more technologically-advanced workplace. The Deloitte report, for example, identified areas such as creativity, leadership & management, and complex problem-solving as amongst the most critical high priority skills required for the future. The report’s findings suggested that the net effect could then be positive – in the last 15 years, 800,000 jobs were lost to technology but 3.5 million were created, while each new job paid around GBP 10,000 p/a more than the routine job it replaced.


Are the robots going to threaten your role?
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