Is automation really putting SA jobs at risk? 

17 Apr

In South Africa, more than 5 million people are jobless. With that in mind, how do you really think and feel about automation becoming so prominent on a world-wide scale? While our country might not be ready for a robotic revolution, it can still benefit from it and such a revolution quite simply cannot be stopped.

It’s not just intelligent or smart technology that’s transforming the workforce. It’s human intelligence too and therein lies the key to our future in artificial automation (AI).

That being said, it doesn’t mean that the AI stats aren’t scary for the average South African. In fact, one in every 3 jobs (that’s a whopping 5.7 million jobs) in the country could be at risk, thanks to automation.

It’s not all doom and gloom

What if people merely need to adopt an attitude of innovation and developing new skills to create new opportunities to support this new way of doing things?

It’s not just production and manufacturing jobs that will be replaced. Many jobs will face the chop and these include those of cashiers, construction workers, clerks, planners, maintenance workers and so on.

While not impossible to automate, there are a few fields and job types that are not as easy to replace with machines and automated systems. These include positions that are used to influence people, so think teaching, programming, negotiations, real-time discussions and so on.

The workforce is set to evolve over the next 7 years or so and by 2025, the jobs really at risk in South Africa will be as low as 20%.

Whether it quells fears or spurs them on, it’s important to look at what type of jobs have already been replaced by automation, or are set to be in the very near future:

  • Cashiers – Just take a look at McDonalds. The company in the USA replaced 2 500 cashiers with digital systems as they sped up the ordering process and allowed for customers to truly customise their orders. The result? Increased productivity and lower outlay for McDonalds and a better experience for their customers.
  • Banking customer service agents – Nedbank has already hopped on board by introducing Pepper to their Sandton Gautrain branch. This humanoid robot can recognise the human voice and is used to help customers with queries.
  • Construction workers – This is probably one that could greatly affect the jobs of many South Africans! SAM (Semi-Automated Mason) is a bricklaying robot designed and released by a tech company in New York. The robot can lay up to 3 000 bricks per day with speed.
  • Medical dispensaries – These jobs are already being replaced in SA by the Gauteng Department of Health, which is collaborating with Right to Care and Right ePharmacy. The new device, which is similar to an ATM is used to dispense medication and make for quick and easy collection of medicines.
  • Models and representatives – A major fashion brand, Dolce and Gobanna, used drones to show off their latest handbags instead of glamorous models as they did in the past!

The Pros and Cons of AI

The pros of automated workplaces are mostly related to increased productivity, elimination of human error, and higher profit margins.

However, there are still many cons that will deter some industries from investing their time and attention to AI. These include the following:

  • AI cannot sense emotion and they also don’t have a conscience which could mean that they can be influenced to do bad deeds.
  • Robots have pre-defined capabilities which means that they cannot learn new skills or grow within the workplace. They do what they are programmed to do which means that workplaces could become stale and outdated.

Perhaps the time has come to seriously consider whether or not artificial intelligence would put your job or business at risk and if it’s a possibility, how you can redefine your business to embrace the technology rather than fear it. We’d love to hear your thoughts on AI.

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