Mon | Jun 24, 2019

Engineers' Angle | Robotics as an economic tool –Part 2

Published:Sunday | May 26, 2019 | 12:15 AM
Junior Bennett
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Is Jamaica ready for increased use of robotics technology and automation? The answer is a resounding yes.

The time to invest and implement automation in business processes is now. But, how will Jamaicans tackle the fear and job insecurity that some employees may have? The notion that robotics will take over one’s job is not true. Robotics does not make job decisions.

The Gleaner, on May 20, 2019, reported that New Fortress Energy committed J$2.6 million in sponsorship to Halls of Learning for the hosting of the first World Robot Olympiad (WRO) competition in Jamaica. I am expecting that this competition will challenge our students to apply the technology to solve real problems that can benefit Jamaica and the Caribbean. Students need to know that careers in STEM disciplines are exciting and rewarding.

Like all emerging technologies, robotics and automation implementation have to be managed carefully. Incorporating the use of robotics may not only save time and money in the long term, but efficiency, quality, reliability and safety will all be increased.

IMPLICATIONS

Should the responsibility of job security for low-skilled be on the company or workers? Some may argue that it is the company of employment. Others may say that it is the sole responsibility of the workers. My argument is that not just the individual and the company have responsibilities but the government as well. However, I believe that the major responsibility is that of the individual.

The low-skilled workers, I believe, could be negatively affected in the short term, while the high-skilled workers will benefit more. Temporary workers and contract workers may be more affected than permanent workers, as employers may not renew their contracts, as their service in performing a repetitive task may no longer be available, notwithstanding new opportunities will be created.

EFFECT ON LOW-SKILLED WORKERS

Training and certification are the best ways to prepare and combat the perceived negative implications of integrating robotics and automation in the workplace. Individuals need to continuously improve their skill sets through formal and informal learning. They will have to acquire new skills and knowledge that are transferable and applicable across several industries. The development of problem-solving skills, discipline and critical thinking will be necessary to compete for new job opportunities that will be created.

Companies that are planning to implement automation should plan and provide opportunities for hard-working low-skilled employees to be trained in areas that complement their aptitude and support the company vision. Also, companies should encourage their workers to improve literacy, numeracy and communication skills. Workers should be encouraged to use their smartphones for professional development and not just for games, entertainment and social-media postings.

CBS News, on May 1, 2018, in a report titled The Economic and Human Impact of the Rise of Robots and AI (artificial intelligence), asked the question, “What is the possible economic – and human – impact of the rise of robots?” The report indicated that “far from being a threat to workers, advances in robotics and AI could be a good thing for the global economy”. The report further went on to state that “robots are helping to do tasks that humans aren’t doing. This may be due to either a shortage of workers or because workers do not want to do them”.

The Pew Research Center (https://www.pewinternet.org ) conducted a survey in 2014 with approximately 1,900 experts and published an article titled ‘AI, robotics, and the future of jobs’. The survey asked the experts, “Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence (AI) applications and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?” A little less than “half of these experts (48 per cent) envision a future in which robots and digital agents have displaced significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers”, while a little more than half “(52 per cent) expect that technology will not displace more jobs than it creates by 2025”.

The report indicated that “economies that have chosen to invest in education, technology, and related infrastructure” will have a positive impact on jobs by 2025”, as “throughout history, technology has been a job creator – not a job destroyer”. Jamaica, therefore, has to do more to increase the educational levels and morale of our people.

The increase integration of robotics in Jamaica’s economic will create more job opportunities than will be replaced, but the implementation has to be managed carefully to lessen the possible negatively impact on low-skilled workers. Increasing use of automation and robotics technology can be an economic tool for competitive advantage of Jamaica. However, the education, job creation and job security for low-skilled workers must be factored in all decisions.

- Junior A. Bennett is a lecturer in industrial engineering at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.