By Dr Lindsay McMillan
Improvements in robotics and automation could potentially change the work landscape, this time for bricklayers and miners.
Fastbrick Robotics, has built a robot that lays bricks at twenty-five times the speed of a human and last week secured significant investment from Caterpillar for their venture. If it has successful up-take in the industry, this brick-laying robot could put workers out of a job that was once considered “safe as houses”.
In the mining industry, which has been declining since 2013 from its significant boom, automation has been initially “disorienting”. That is how the Australian Head of BHP Operations described it, after seeing a 200-300 tonne truck driving around without a driver. Fortescue Metals has driverless trucks across most of its operations.
Yes, bricklaying and mining operations are manual work, which is theoretically easier to automate, but office workers should be concerned too. More jobs once considered “safe” are predicted to turn into redundancies thanks to automation; jobs like record keeping and repetitive customer service. Anything repetitive is easier to codify for accurate and cheap implementation by technology.
The CSIRO’s report Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce found 44 per cent of Australian jobs are “potentially at high risk of computerisation and automation” whilst the Productivity Commission’s report into Digital Disruption found improvements in sensors and machine learning will broaden the range of capabilities, and therefore jobs, that robots can take over. Sensors can be found in mass production lines and machine learning in smart phones are set to make virtual assistants like Siri even smarter.
The fact is most of us are already touched by AI and automation in some way. We often feel frustrated with the automated voice recognition systems used by our insurance companies or our government departments, because many of us remember how it used to be – a person on the other line who could understand a complex problem.
The big question is: what do we do about it from a workplace perspective?
As of yet, there is no reality where we are without human work. The fact is, people are going to be working with technology and not against it.
My own research found Australian workers are already feeling the impact of technology; 54 per cent of millennials experience technology-related stress and 46 per cent say technology makes them feel “always on”.
For employees facing technology stress, it is increasingly important to demonstrate purpose and meaning in their role and follow the core Healthy Workplace Principles: engagement, development, inclusion and life enhancement as outlined in Renewing Australian Workplaces. This will help employees understand why they are important and improves the vital (human) relationships in the workplace.
Yes, some jobs will be automated and taken over which is an overwhelming transition for a workplace. It is important organisations recognise change in their industry and adapt to survive.
But there is a brighter side – big data analysts, complex decision support analysts, remote controlled vehicle operators and online chaperones will be among the new titles we can expect in the near future.
It’s all part of the changing world of work.