The surprise of the pandemic has had some unexpected consequences, it has moved the needle on automation for businesses.
Many businesses were in the process of implementing some automation processes or were finishing up plans to implement it in the near future As businesses re-open slowly across the country, many employers are facing challenges in luring back workers.
Many workers are fearful of working in close proximity to other workers, or they have to stay home to attend to children due to schools and day care centers being closed. Sheltering at home has led to a drastic drop in productivity and worker availability.
Some of the businesses affected such as retail, restaurants and healthcare cannot be done remotely. As interactions with customers have to be done in person, where one to one contact is required for the most part.
This has moved businesses to implement automation much faster than they had expected. If workers were to stay at home due to Covid-19 and automation was already at full throttle, robots would have handled the switch with no loss of productivity.
Employers who were hit by Covid-19, particularly those that stayed open, like grocery stores, such as Walmart and Target, are ripe for automation of certain functions that are human centered. More than 40% of companies worldwide have moved up their automation plans according to Ernst & Young. This is due to companies facing decimated bottom lines, Automation although expensive on the front end, is cheaper in the long run than hiring workers.
There will be some technology that will be job killers in the short term. But in the long term, it will lead to increased jobs, albeit with different skill sets. Workers will need to upgrade their skills, i.e. how to run these machines & robots, troubleshoot problems and re-program them. This skills gap needs to be addressed now, or it will become a bigger problem in the future. Roughly 36 million jobs could be lost to automation according to the Brookings Institution.
Many of the educational programs needed to train workers in automation processes and machinery will be developed by non-traditional schools and workplace tech companies. The university system at this time is not set up to train these workers with the core skills needed and in a short time frame. Programs need to be short and laser focused on the actual skills of programming systems, repairing and running automation machinery. Courses filed with liberal arts and Edgar Allen Poe are a waste of time. More technical school types of programs are needed now. These programs can be developed by entrepreneurial companies that can roll out a short curriculum with on the job training over the course of 3-6 months.
The business community will be the main driver of this change.