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Hot topic: Automation and the rise of the robots

With research from Deloitte suggesting many lower-skilled workers may lose their jobs to machines in the future, should people be worried about the impact that increased levels of automation will have on employment?

Automation has been replacing humans in jobs for decades, particularly in engineering. But with Deloitte and Oxford University suggesting that 10 million jobs will be lost to robots over the next decade, how does this affect employers and should employees be worried?

The bottom line is that technology is inevitable for progress. But the human element will always be needed in business. Research and development requires thought, problem-solving, brainstorming and insight. A human can identify issues and follow a process to find a solution.

Advances in technology are all instigated by humans. We are constantly striving to make processes quicker, more efficient, less wasteful and cheaper. When developing techniques there has to be trial and error to perfect the process, which requires human involvement to tweak the process along the way to reach the desired solution.

A robot or computer can store information and analyse it, however a human has to interpret it. Unravelling what has worked before requires human interaction, experience and instinct. Trouble-shooting is another human skill – we decode why things failed and what can be learned.

Employees who are seeing increasing automation in their sector could find that their skills are useful in other roles. For instance in the retail sector, the enormous demand for internet shopping has generated more packing roles in warehouses. Automation has also encouraged a shift towards different career paths – for instance many people who would have been in industrial roles are choosing to pursue roles in the care industry.

The challenge for employers is to make sure that their workforces can adapt to evolving trends. This is particularly true of lower-skilled workers who will need to be re-trained, upskilled and re-deployed across the workforce into new roles.

Shaun Simmons is technical and engineering managing director at Cordant Group