How are robotics and automation changing the jobs landscape?

Robots. Many people will have a picture of what robots are from watching films or TV programmes as a child. Metal clanking giants with lasers for eyes for example.

Some may even think evil that robots, taking on eerily-accurate human appearances, will take over. Again a fear perhaps from watching too much on the small screen.

It’s no wonder that robotics still instills fear in some.

However, a UK Parliament Select Committee Report back in 2019 actually complained that the UK wasn’t doing enough when it came to utilising robotics and that we were falling way way behind countries like Japan.

The report said that “in 2015 the UK had just 10 robots for every million hours worked, compared with 167 in Japan”.

But from automotive, food, plastic and metals, to machinery and electronics, robotics are playing a major and important part in a manufacturing world that is now embracing automation and digitalisation.

Automation can drive efficiency and productivity, and reduce costs (after initial investment in implementation).

Despite this, a January 2020 report by the International Federation of Robotics Robotics said that the UK was still “on a low level” when compared to countries such as France, Italy, and Germany.

However, the IFR suggests that while the COVID-19 pandemic will see a short-term “contraction” of the sector, the “long-run perspectives remain excellent”.

So how does this shape jobs and recruitment within manufacturing?

There had been fears that robots and automation would displace workers on the shop floor, with companies employing robotics rather than actual people.

Well, the fact that the UK lags behind by some margin suggests that a wholesale jobs takeover by robots won’t happen just yet.

And while of course automation will replace some jobs, there are opportunities elsewhere. In fact, the World Economic Forum actually predicts that “automation will result in a net increase of 58 million jobs”.

Robotics and automated systems need programming and maintaining. Companies will still need tasks to be completed by humans, such as customer services and software development.

Tech-literate graduates will be in high demand, as will highly-skilled automation engineers, and so competition to attract the right talent will be tough.

Companies wanting to attract the talent will have to create the environment where people actually want to work, pay accordingly, and put together training and development processes that help people achieve.

They must ensure that recruitment processes and knowledge keep up with new technologies and that HR departments are agile enough to adapt to changing ways of working.

It might well be that automation and robotics do change how companies recruit, but it will be about hiring a different type of person with different skill sets in a different type of role to those historically associated with manufacturing. Where the UK once led the world in the industrial revolution, it can do so again in manufacturing – with the right people.


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