A fear of robots and technology has been alive for generations. First there was a wariness about computers, then a suspicion of the internet and everyone remembers the ‘millennium bug’.
As most will recall, the above ‘tech disasters’ didn’t actually come about. Instead, design, manufacturing, logistics and support jobs were created, people all over the world became connected and the global economy changed inexorably forever.
Fears surrounding new technology isn’t exactly anything new and will probably continue as long as new technological advancements are being made, so it’s important to look at technology with an open mind, as it can undoubtedly improve the way we work and how competitive we can be.
Recently, the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF), a non-profit and professional member body of ergonomists and human factors specialists commissioned independent research in collaboration with CV-library and over 1,000 manufacturing professionals regarding robotics. Despite the way robotics are often perceived in general, CIEHF found that nearly two-thirds (63.3%) have never witnessed job losses as a result of the introduction of robots or automation. What’s more, over one-third stated that robots have brought about job creation within their place of work.
Robots and automation can be given a bad name as many leaders are worried about the effects on jobs. However, this time, research results mimicked the beliefs held by CIEHF that, while automation might well remove some mundane, often repetitive jobs, it can also make a significant contribution to ‘upskilling’ employees and cementing a competitive edge, something which may often be overlooked.
Unfortunately, this does not appear to be being communicated to workforces, as findings also revealed that over half of industry professionals admit that there is resistance from employees when implementing new automated processes.
One of the most interesting findings was that four out of five manufacturers feel more should be done to promote the benefits of automation and robotics in the workplace to the workforce, and, in fact, a majority believe the responsibility for that lies with the employer. We find this insightful since technological evolution is inevitable, with robotics becoming more and more common in the workplace. Almost half (47.8%) of industry workers have seen a rise in automation within their own work over the last few years. So it is surprising that promotion of the benefits isn’t already in place.
This plays into why there can be such a resistance from workers. If the benefits — of new jobs through competitiveness, solidity and then expansion —, and the creation of new roles, such as robot management, support, sourcing, evaluation, are being overshadowed by negativities and fears about job losses, why would employees be welcoming about technological change?”
Although robotics and automation can create more skilled jobs and have the ability to streamline manufacturing processes, it remains key to consider the human element at a very early stage when implementing new systems. There’s no doubt that robots can improve efficiency and competitiveness, but the range and capability of human behaviour has a huge effect on processes and is the essential consideration at the design stage. As we recognise more and more automation into our workplaces, the designs of these systems need to continue to improve, which will build an enhanced understanding of how humans and robotics can support each other.
Steve Barraclough is CEO at the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors
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