'˜Rise of the robots may lead to better and more creative jobs'

Any jobs lost from the rise of robotics in business could be replaced by different and more fulfilling work, a leading employment lawyer has claimed.

Undated handout photo issued by Airbus Defence and Space of Cimon, a free-flying ball-shaped robot with a smiling face, who has an appreciation of music and a vocabulary of more than 1,000 sentences, as the white droid is set to join the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) later this year. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Deborah Warren, senior associate at Leeds-based law firm Clarion, said that automation and artificial intelligence will have in increasing impact on the workplace but that any roles made redundant by machines could be replaced by ones which are more creative.

Speaking during a seminar on the impact of robotics on industry, Ms Warren added that increased use of automation could also see increasing flexibility in the workplace, with employees moving away from traditional Monday to Friday shift work.

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She said: “As we increase in automation in the workplace it is likely there are going to be jobs where there is less impact and other jobs where there is higher demand.

“In terms of the jobs where there is less demand probably they are going to be occupations where things are repetitive or process driven, whether that is manual labour or where people are working in dangerous environments and you are able to take them out of that dangerous situation.

“Or other roles where [demand may be lower] is work which is knowledge based or in data analytics. Some examples include roles on assembly lines and professions such as accountancy and payroll type jobs where it is a lot around analysing data and process.

“On the flipside jobs where there might be a higher demand are things like IT management and jobs which are a little bit more creative and require problem solving, jobs where there is a lot of people interaction like in sales or customer service, and jobs where you cannot always be objective and involve discretion. These jobs might be more concerned with engineering and science.

“There will be a different type of work created. It can be more complex and more creative. This is the big selling point for employees because they might be a bit more fulfilled in the work they are doing. As a business we need to start thinking about, in terms of our growth strategy, how are we prepared for that type of work actually looks like.

“So we have to look at our existing employees and whether we might be able to train them up on skills they need to do that kind of work, but also on looking at the next generation, working with local schools and colleges and universities that they have the courses to produce the individuals we need and have the skills that can enable us to move forwards.”

A change in regular working hours and patterns was another area in which robotics were likely to influence change, she said.

“There might be a change to working hours in that we might move away from the traditional Monday to Friday, day shift/night shift type of working where employees are mainly at work, to a system where employees just check in and out of work to just check that the machines and robots are doing what they are supposed to be doing. The other way in which we might see flexibility is how we engage with our staff. We might come away from the sort of traditional employee/employer relationship and move more towards the gig economy type style, casual workers and self employed consultants where we use them as and when we need them.”

Ms Warren added that, if handled correctly, robotics could make workplaces more egalitarian but also warned that any changes to working practices from technology had to be handled correctly and communicated well.

Changing roles

The seminar also heard from Keith Jackson of Premier Farnell on the increasing number of applications for Raspberry Pi in the manufacturing sector as well as the importance of its use in education in engaging student in programming and electronics.

Mr Jackson outlined how the new kit that had been developed to allow people to build their own computer had led to 16 per cent more schoolgirls saying they would choose careers involved in computing and that 86 per cent of children overall saying they found computing more interesting.

Elsewhere Mike Hodge, managing director of Cimlogic, explained how he helps world class manufacturers improve productivity through automation.

Clarion’s business development director Steve Crow, said: “With Brexit likely to exacerbate the shortage of skills in the manufacturing sector, we need to overcome the outdated, negative views about robots ‘taking’ jobs.

“Instead, we should embrace the latest technology as a way of enabling businesses to access the skills they need to enable manufacturing to continue to thrive in Yorkshire.”