Will Tradesmen Be Safe From the Rise of Automation?

by | Mar 26, 2020

by Relena Jane, guest columnist

Article exclusively written for Tradesmen Insights

The rise of machinery and automation has been a constant thorn in the side of engineers, machine operatives and even farmers for many years.

As far back as the 1700s workers were revolting against the onset of technology. English textile workers rallied against the development and implementation of new machinery. They were known as the Luddites, a term that became synonymous with people who opposed technological advances.

It might have taken a couple of centuries, but increased understanding of technology is leading to more automation and AI involvement in our working processes than ever before. Slowly, but surely, machines have taken over from human beings. Think about your supermarket experience and the self-service checkout, or booking cinema tickets using your computer, collecting them from a machine on arrival.

Source: Pexels

Nowadays, algorithms are being used to mark essays in certain parts of the world, something that seemed impossible a decade or two ago. People are being used less and less in all forms of business, customer service and engineering. Will our dependable tradesmen, the plumbers and joiners of this world, be safe from the rise of automation?

To answer we have to understand how quickly technology is advancing. Manufacturing is one industry that has been hugely affected. Operatives have become scarcer on production lines, even when dealing with intricate assembly and manufacture of parts such as computer chips. Soon enough, AI will start disrupting this industry for the better, making processes much more efficient and quicker. The complexity of circuit board parts to create new machinery will be no more, and will lead to completely eradicating the need for human intervention. Thus, some areas will always need reactive operatives, but in far fewer numbers than before.

With technology advancing so quickly, even diagnosing problems around the home has become automated to a degree. The Internet of Things (IoT) will soon see many household appliances linked and able to self-diagnose problems within your home.

Will that mean that the humble tradesman, the men and women upon which our economy relies, will eventually be replaced by robots? Not according to Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.

He believes one of the roles that will be safe is: “those that require a lot of mobility, dexterity and unpredictable environments, e.g., skilled trade jobs, electricians, plumbers. It could be a very long time before we get a robot that can do a better job than an electrician does.

“That would be something like C3PO from Star Wars. The truly advanced sci-fi robot. That is not going to happen anytime soon.”

In addition to tradesmen, The Guardian also explains that Ford feels creatives and innovators will be safe from the rise of robotic influence, as will those who need to build complex, empathetic relationships with people, such as doctors and nurses. Whilst highly repetitive work such as telesales, burger flipping and production line manufacturing might be at risk, the men and women involved in plumbing, joinery and other home repairs can breathe a sigh of relief. The unpredictable environments and situations, long since the bane of the tradesperson’s life, is the very thing that will keep the robots from taking over in the end.

One of the issues fueling robotic intervention is the skills gap in this country, an area of extra reading you might want to explore by checking out our article on ‘Skills Gap We’re Between a Rock and a Hard Place’.


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