The situation in the labour market is quite ironic. It is ironic because while most people look to business owners for jobs, these employers are increasingly looking in the direction of machines to get work done.
For quite some time now, it has been said that the concept of industrial labour is evolving, and that the rise of machines and advancement in technology is posing a big challenge to the long term demand for human labour.
There have been signs of the possibility of some professions becoming obsolete at some point, but not everyone can see these signs. A good pointer to support that claim is the fact in the 20s, knocking on people’s door used to be a profession but today, even kids, at a particular age, can do their knocking by themselves.
In case you’re not convinced, consider the fact that people no longer look for post-men to help dispatch their documents; somewhere along the line, the electronic mailing system became a preferred option. So what happened to the many post-men of those days? I guess you can conclude that less of their service was required as the electronic mailing system grew in acceptance.
It is this same threat that hangs over a lot of other professionals today. For instance in the banking industry, where the use of ATM, POS machines and other e-banking services have become faster and more convenient options to having to operate with cashiers, It was on this basis that Ecobank Nigeria recently announced it would be closing down 74 branches, to focus on its electronic banking services, a move that resulted in job cuts for some professionals. The managing director of the bank, Charles Kie, had explained that the bank hoped to shift its activities to digital channels and improve customers’ experience at reduced cost.
Similarly, in the area of Engineering, the automation of jobs is fast gaining grounds. A visit to Dangote Sinotruk West Africa Ltd, located in Lagos, where full range of commercial vehicles covering heavy duty trucks, medium trucks, light trucks are produced, revealed that new technologies are fast replacing human input into vehicle manufacturing.
With fewer workers in the plant, the factory is expected to assemble and produce 10,000 trucks annually. Checks show that their production line including turning over machine, filling machine, inspection line, debugging workshops to finished products are all dominated and driven by high tech with very few humans.
It is easy to conclude that this change in direction of things, affects only middle class professionals, but if you consider the increasing success level of commercializing self-driving cars, one would agree that even skills like driving could become less sellable at some point in the future.
Even as a receptionist, there is an existing threat of your job being automated. In December 2015, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore unveiled a human-like robot, which will work as a receptionist on campus. Not only does the robot have a soft skin and flowing brunette hair, Nadine as she was named, meets and greets visitors. She smiles, makes eye contact and shake hands. She can even recognize past guests and spark up conversation based on previous chats.
A lot of other industries are joining in this wave of automation of jobs. Employers have stated speed and the fact that they don’t have to pay wages as some of the reasons they favour the use of machines in their business operation. Andy Puzdater, the CEO of US-based fast-food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s further stated the reasons for his preference of robots over human workers. In an interview with Business Insider, he said that unlike human workers, robots are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”
With this development in mind, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) conducted a research and predicted that by the early 2030s; about 30% of existing UK jobs would have been automated. For the US, German and Japan; the figures are 38%, 35% and 21% respectively. In developing nations like Nigeria, the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, warned that they face the risk of losing two-thirds of all existing jobs to automation.
Considering the threat posed by the rise of machines to human labour; it is important to start to look beyond the common topic of how professional your course is or how much salary you earn or the title you hold at work, and start to think about the future of global business with machines handling most of the jobs. As individuals, we need to start to plan on how to stay in business when job automation would have reached a full scale, because it is imminent. It means that machines are the new competitors for your job. They are usually faster, less prone to errors and your boss would like the fact that he does not have to pay them wages. The question now is: what is your edge over machines in this fierce competition to keep your job? The answer lies in your level of creativity.
This article was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets