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The MHC Blog

Powerful Business Insights for Succesful Leaders

I’ve been replaced by an algorithm!

In our blog “Why we need an exit strategy” we wrote about the problems facing the current working population and the issue we face with our pension schemes not predicted to comfortably pay for our planned retirement.

One solution we all have is to stay working longer.  A great idea, however, as recently reported in the national media, traditional jobs of the past are being replaced by automation making it much tougher to find a job to see us financially through to our new extended retirement age.

I remember many years ago this issue being brought to the forefront of my mind whilst I was still at school, with the replacement of humans on car assembly lines. Ford Dagenham opened its doors in 1931, and at its peak in 1953, employed around 40,000 workers, most of whom lived in Dagenham itself.  Slowly, to speed up the accuracy of car manufacturing and to hit high consumer demand, they started introducing robotics to the assembly line, reducing the need for human contact with the car being manufactured.  

The plant eventually closed in 2013 with the loss of 1,000 jobs.  In 60 years, the headcount at the plant had reduced by 98% due, in most part, to automation.  The local town had gone through a major change in its approach to work.  Generations had assumed that their children would work alongside them for years before they retired and were comfortable in the knowledge that the generations that followed them would have a job for life.  Unfortunately, there is no such thing anymore.

This is the fate that Corby in the UK is currently facing.  Corby is reported to be the town most threatened by robotics and software in the UK.   In Corby, 31% of employment is subject to cliff-edge automation, compared to a UK average of 17.6%.

A local 19-year-old who lives in Corby told Sky News: "It is bad in Corby, it really is because there are hardly any jobs going.  I tried to apply for a job in a warehouse but the only job that was going was through the use of robots, but I am not trained, which means I can't work there.  I know for a fact that most factory work will be overtaken by robots, which means there's going to be less people working, which means there's going to be more people out of work."

It a double-edged sword, we are constantly looking at ways to improve the service we provide our customers, but many improvements seem to be at the detriment of humans performing the role. 

In 2016 John Lewis opened a new £150m distribution centre in Milton Keynes which puts automation at its core.  They said that "Customers want reliable service, they want efficiency, they want the convenience, and that's what we're able to deliver here.  Potentially in the future it could reduce the number of roles that are created, but what we are doing is ensuring that actually those roles that we do create have got much more opportunities."

And automation is not just replacing manual labour, Amazon just opened a new retail store in Seattle where sensors and artificial intelligence have replaced cashiers.  High-tech systems such as the one used by Amazon Go completely automate the checkout process. 

Inside Amazon Go the cameras never lose sight of a customer once they enter the shop.  Hundreds of cameras near the ceiling and sensors in the shelves help automatically tally the products that shoppers remove and put into their bags. Shoppers' accounts are charged as they walk out the doors.  There is no human contact at all in the process of buying groceries.

Nowhere are retailers experimenting more avidly with automating store shopping than in China.  One effort is a chain of more than 100 unmanned convenience shops from a start-up called Bingo Box, one of which sits in a business park in Shanghai. Shoppers scan a code on their phones to enter and, once inside, scan the items they want to buy. The store unlocks the exit door after they have paid through their phones

Walmart is testing the Bossa Nova robots in dozens of its locations to reduce some tedious tasks that can eat up a worker's time. The robots, which look like giant wheeled luggage bags, roll up and down the aisles looking for shelves where cereal boxes are out of stock and items like toys are mislabelled. The machines then report back to workers, who restock the shelves and apply new labels.

As proven above, it’s becoming obvious that there is no job or industry that will not see automation taking over.  But what can we do?  If there are less jobs available and more humans on the planet, how do we survive to see ourselves heading into a nice retirement? 

Humans need to innovate and pivot. We need to retrain ourselves and keep our skills relevant and up to date.  The world is moving online, if you have an offline service, now is the time to start looking to bring that service online. 

This takes time, do not assume this is an easy move, you will need to work harder to move into the online space whilst still providing the offline service, working twice as hard to be able to keep up with the shift in technology.

For those of us with children, we need to encourage and focus their education on the future, the roles that are currently available for them are unlikely to be there when they leave education. 

It is said that there is always a 21 year old in Silicon Valley looking to put you out of business, we need to act now so that our product or service is not replaced by an App.

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Claire Donnelly

Written by Claire Donnelly

A Business Growth and HR Strategist helping medium size companies to Scale Up using proven systems. Claire is an MCIPD qualified Human Resource professional, with 25+ years’ experience working within various industries and 10 + years’ experience of HR practices throughout the Middle East. As a HR Generalist she has held a number of senior and Board level HR positions. She is experienced in working at both strategic and tactical levels.

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