Will Robots Replace Hourly Workers? How Automation is Transforming Companies Like Tesla

September 26, 2018
The future can be a scary thing to behold, especially for businesses. Competition, economic situations, and screening, hiring, and training employees adds pressure to an already chaotic environment. Evolving technologies have eased some of those pressures, but the adoption of a new technology, like robotic automation and artificial intelligence, requires proof before many business leaders buy in. But robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) is not to be feared, but embraced by business leaders. In the past, this was easier when the jobs being automated were just a few repetitive motions in the job performed by blue collar workers. But can many more blue collar responsibilities really be automated?

The fear of blue collar jobs turning a whiter shade of pale is picking up steam as momentum shifts toward automating many positions for more efficient and greater production. Leaders will need to view automation as more of an efficient tool than a futuristic R2D2 that replaces a job. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, "The right question isn't which jobs are going to be replaced, but rather, what work will be redefined, and how?"
Someone will have to monitor the robots, and automation specialists will be needed as well as data scientists, content curators, and more.
Automation Does Not Equal Elimination

Putting it simply, RPA involves the production of automation with the use of software. It automates routine administrative blue collar tasks that entail high volume and low complexity. According to Forrester, automation will replace 12 million jobs in the US by 2025. The forecast found that the jobs most likely to be disrupted by automation will be roles in office, warehouse, administration, and customer service, including cashiers. That's because customer servant agents, restocking shelves and clerical roles, which are highly repetitive and involves processes, is easily duplicated by a machine.

But as with other types of technology that replaces human hands-on jobs like auto assembly and the sorting of Amazon packages, RPA will create other kinds of work while streamlining redundant processes. Of course, someone will have to monitor the robots, and automation specialists will be needed as well as data scientists, content curators, and more.

According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, 38% of US jobs could be automated by 2030. The banking industry is currently in the lead of injecting RPA into white collar jobs as well. Genworth Financial, Goldman Sachs, Mizuho Financial Group, Deutsche Bank, and Telefónica's O2 business are just a few currently successfully incorporating robotic processes. But other industries are beginning to see the value of RPA utilized in their HR departments. Management consulting firm, West Monroe Partners recently adopted RPA to help bring on new workers. The company is automating its data entry as well as other tasks used to bring a new employee on board reducing the time from 25 minutes to just a few minutes for each employee.
It was discovered that the automation processes actually slowed down production.
Tesla's Robots and Fire Department Automation

According to a recent Harvard Business Review piece, Tesla's Fremont, California manufacturing facility was designed to be fully automated with little interaction from humans. The AI-powered robots were supposed to enable the company to achieve a weekly production of 5,000 Model 3 electric cars to keep up with Tesla's increasing demand. But it was discovered that the automation processes actually slowed down production, producing only 2,000 cars. Elon Musk, Tesla's CEO decided to revamp the factory, hire real humans, and start again. Now the company is producing up to goal levels using both robots and humans interacting to complete the demanded multiple processes.

The difference between life and death situations are being automated today. Fire and police departments nationwide are looking into the technology for dispatching emergency calls. The Reedy Creek Fire Department, that covers Walt Disney World, recently implemented RPA to dispatch its calls. A human takes the emergency call and then feeds the information into the system that uses a robotic voice to dispatch a fire engine or rescue to the emergency. The automated system, known as Tommy D, will send out the call to the appropriate fire station with all pertinent details and keep all time and other records of the call. Jobs were not replaced, but enhanced. The same is true with many hourly worker functions.

Embracing the Future

Automation is still in the pilot stage for many industries and particularly for hourly worker positions. Fear is typically the result of the unknown. Rightfully so, some question, "Will RPA take my blue collar job away? Is management out to replace me with a Jetsons character?" But history has shown that RPA has improved efficiency while maintaining employment for hourly workers. Pharmacies have implemented RPA to insure patient safety, and pharmacists are still employed. Paralegals and attorneys have automated many of their systems and still have jobs. So do journalists, bankers, insurance agents, and stock brokers. RPA is here to stay providing competitive advantages for those daring business leaders willing to take the leap to automation. The successful horse and buggy manufacturers adapted to the future and so did Atari workers. RPA isn't the devil and blue collar workers won't have to wait in bread lines.
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