The robots are coming – but not for me

How to tango with a robot 

We’re all familiar with the predictions: a new wave of bots, AI, and automated technologies are coming. They will sweep into widespread use and when they strike, the upheaval and disruption will displace millions of human workers from their jobs.   

Study after study predicts this, some with very alarming figures. Research from Oxford University and Deloitte states that 35% of UK jobs are at risk of being lost to automation within the next two decades. And according to many experts, the future of the common man under the fourth industrial revolution looks bleak. As Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said in December last year, the inevitability of AI will “destroy jobs and livelihoods well before new ones emerge”. 

But how does the average worker feel about this threat? Are they concerned about their future livelihood, or has this challenge not begun to worry them yet? 

To uncover consumer perceptions of automation, we interviewed 1,000 UK-based consumers ages 18 and older and asked them how concerned they are about the threat automation poses to the workforce. What we found was that a surprising number of working adults are not worried that AI will impact their careers, but they think others should be.   

Bots can’t do my job

In spite of all the hype around automation replacing jobs, our research showed that more than 53.7% of working adults are not at all worried that robots will replace them in the workforce and 62.1% feel very secure and confident their jobs or industry will still exist in 10 years.   

When asked what they perceive to be the greatest threat to their job security, the most popular response was “a struggling economy” (37.5%). The problem with this perception, however, is that it fails to recognise that in a struggling economy, businesses may turn towards automation even more aggressively in an effort to save money — making automation the greatest threat after all. Only 14.6% felt threatened by automation and robots. 

Some consumers don’t feel threatened by automation simply because they don’t have faith a robot could do their job well. Interestingly, a quarter (26.6%) of respondents do not trust a robot to replace any existing job function.   

However, consumers aren't dismissing the potential impact of automation completely. Acknowledging the threat automation poses to the workforce, some 64.2% of respondents believe that other industries may be at risk but their job and industry are safe from being displaced due to automation. 

Bots can do these jobs 

The manufacturing / transport and logistics industry (40.9%) along with accounting / banking and finance (35.4%) topped the list as most at risk to lose jobs to automation in the next 20 years, according consumers.   

Aware of the potential threat to their job, those in the manufacturing / transport and logistics industry were among the most concerned about their jobs, with 46% selecting their own industry as at-risk.  Those in the mining and resourcing industries are also more self-aware of their uncertain future, with 50% self-selecting it as being most at risk of being lost to automation. 

As far as the particular job verticals that consumers think will disappear in 20 years, factory worker (44%) and check out assistants (40%) topped the list. These were also the two top jobs which consumers would trust a robot to perform. The jobs perceived as being the safest include doctor/nurse (3.2%), lawyer (3.4%), journalist (5%), and researcher (6%). 

Are you prepared? 

While most respondents don’t feel threatened by automation, many (70%) reported taking measures to increase their job security: 43.8% of respondents have taken courses to learn skills and 13.4% have gone back to school to study for a new career.   

Those in the retail industry, however, are the least likely to take any action to increase their job security. In fact, 47% in the retail industry report taking no measures to increase their job security. The problem with this reality is that sticking you head in the sand is never the answer when you’re facing an intractable problem. 

But this question of re-skilling and staying relevant in the age of automation remains paramount. Rather than fearing being replaced by robots, consumer should prepare to work with them. 

A tango dancer, not a Terminator 

We’re seeing many large brands looking to integrate bots and AI into their digital and customer care strategies, right alongside their human agents. The key here is “integrating” not “replacing”. AI doesn’t have to involve the eradication of the human from the work arena. Instead, humans and bots can work together in what we call a “tango”: an advanced form of job-sharing where different parts of one job are parcelled out to humans and bots, automatically.   

In customer care, for example, agents and bots should work together in the same channel, and take the lead on the conversation according to the nature of the task. For example, a bot can handle simple task such as a change in address, which frees up the agent to handle more complex inquires. 

In most sectors, a mix of automation and human interaction will always be vital to a positive experience of certain products or services. In the realm of customer service specifically, bots are not yet ready to be the primary customer service agent, meaning customer service jobs are not redundant yet, but they will change. 

The robots are coming 

Making sure that more than a third of the UK workforce is prepared to work with bots, or find a different source of employment, is no small task.   

To our mind, a successful transition into the automation economy requires first and foremost, education. People need to brace themselves for change, and understand how AI will alter the nature of their working lives. Without an understanding of the inevitable challenges to come, any programs established to provide new training or education run the risk of being snubbed or marginalised.   

The robots are coming and ignoring this will make the chasm that will open between those who lose jobs to automation and those who don’t.   

Alan Ranger, EMEA Marketing Director at LivePerson 

Image Credit: IAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Shutterstock