How many jobs will robots take in the next ten years?

by Harry Shelton
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Today we are in the age of Digital Transformation. Every industry in the world is being disrupted rapidly. If you feel you are in a business that is not being impacted by rapid changes in technology than you are one of the companies that will face market exit. It must now be a top priority of all businesses to have a digital transformation strategy in place or they will lose out to competitors. This digital transformation will see many people lose their jobs as automation increases in the workplace. One report from Oxford Economics now estimates 8.5% of the global workforce will be replaced by robots.

Since the industrial revolution took place we have witnessed the evolution of technology displace some jobs and create others. This is nothing new. In the last twenty years, we have seen the advancement of cloud, social, mobile and big data technologies. These four pillars of the new era of computing have created many new jobs but they have displaced many jobs as well. We have seen taxi drivers replaced by uber drivers in many markets but we have seen new jobs created that we never knew would exist. Who could have predicted a job call social media manager thirty years ago?

However, this displacement will increase rapidly over the next decade as advances in Artificial Intelligence and robotics mean that many jobs that involve any element of repetition can be done faster and cheaper by a robot. If you think of truck drivers, grocery store shelves stacker (those working on the till are already facing replacement), analysts and many, many,  more, are facing being replaced in the market. While this new era will also pave the way for many new jobs to be created it does create issues as well. 

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In our economy today the gap between those who are well off and those who have nothing is already too large. The forthcoming digital transformation will likely make the divide even larger. It is easy on paper to say that the truck driver who loses his job can train to become a cloud software engineer or a data scientist, but who will train these workers for the jobs of tomorrow? How will those in financially poor positions be able to afford the training to switch jobs? There will be a large market displacement in the future and it will hurt the people on the fringes of society worst. 

Oxford Economics estimates that 8.5% of the global economy will be replaced by robots in the next decade. It is the role of the government to ensure that these workers are not left abandoned. While these new technologies will make the economy more productive, efficient, competitive and cost-effective. It is worth nothing if we leave 10% of our workers behind. The government must start putting strategies in place now to ensure those who need to be reskilled for alternative employment are being looked after. 

Today it is estimated that there are over 2 million robots in the global workforce. A figure that has tripled in 20 years. Every robot that has been utilized has replaced on average 1.6 workers. That means that 3.2 million workers have already been displaced, but it is just the beginning. 

The question of how to deal with unemployed workers will become a key issue in the next ten years. Some people are suggesting that any company that employs a robot should be made to pay a tax to ensure that displaced workers can still be looked after. However, a move like this could slow down the adoption of certain countries and leave them less competitive on a global stage. Whatever solution is chosen, the first steps need to be taken now as the digital disruption we are talking about has already arrived.

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