Can A Robot Build A House? The Impact Of Automation On Trade Careers

Automation is on the rise, with machines and robots and artificial intelligence having an increasing presence in the workforce.

Whether it’s a car that can drive on its own, a customer service agent that’s made up of 1’s and 0’s, or an engineer with a robot for a co-worker, technology is impacting how we work every day.

In fact, this isn’t even a new occurrence.

Whilst we may not think twice when we see them now, there was once a time when a self-checkout machine in a supermarket was a shock to see. What do you mean that I can buy my food without paying a person?

But, as is the nature of these things, slowly technology creeps into our lives and we become used to new things that originally seemed impossible and way out in the future.

So, how is this impacting the career of a tradesman?

Technology has certainly made some aspects of being a tradesman easier; from booking appointments to learning new skills, technology has played a role in the advancement of the industry.

However, some people fear that the impact of automation on trade careers is potentially negative. There’s an underlying concern that the introduction of automation on trade careers could put people at risk of losing their jobs.

And, with 60% of occupations potentially facing at least a third of their tasks being automated, perhaps it’s a valid concern.

Here we delve deeper into the impact of automation on trades careers and whether you should be worried or excited about the future of your industry.

What Are The Benefits Of Automation?

One of the biggest incentives for companies when it comes to introducing automated workplace policies is the money that you will save.

Whilst, obviously, there will be a large initial cost when it comes to purchasing these automated machines and introducing these new technologies, in the long run, it’s cheaper than paying an employee.

And why is this? Well, robots don’t have rights. At least, not for now.

Where a business has to make sure that a workplace has certain things in place before hiring employees: break times, bathrooms, annual leave, health and safety protections, these are not yet required when it comes to automated machinery.

Andrew Sherman, an attorney specialising in business law, says that “machines have no protected legal rights.” However, he goes on to say that “as robots develop more advanced artificial intelligence empowering them to think and act like humans, legal standards need to change.”

Yet, whilst this may be true, this would not be a concern for companies for a very long time.

And whilst it’s still so financially beneficial for companies to use automated machinery and robotics that do not require a salary or paid time off, it would make sense for businesses to do so.

However, there are some downsides to the rise of automation in trade careers.

For an industry that is so clearly built on trust and personal relationships, this will certainly be hard to navigate and achieve when it’s a machine doing the work.

Customers like to know that the tradesman they’re hiring to work on their house has years of experience and qualifications. It gives them reassurance that they’re in the right hands and can trust the work will be done successfully.

How is a machine supposed to demonstrate its experience and qualifications?

SAM, The Bricklaying Robot

Construction Robotics, a company in New York, is already embracing the technological future and implementing automation on trades careers they use.

For instance, they created and now make commercially available their masonry robot SAM, short for Semi-Automated Mason.

Impressively, SAM is boasted to be able to lay 3,000 bricks a day, in comparison to the average brick layer achieving only 500 bricks a day.

What’s more, SAM also increases productivity by 3-5x, as well as saving production costs of up to 50%. Whilst SAM does require the assistance of human support, he is certainly making a huge impact in the construction industry.

But SAM isn’t the only construction working robot in the world.

Over in Australia, another bricklaying robot can lay 1000 bricks an hour, and has been estimated to build 150 homes a year.

Wow!

Whereas there may still be some issues with SAM’s Aussie counterpart, like its inability to work around corners and the need for a human to supervise and monitor it, this robot is also changing the trades industry.

Despite the need for human supervision and maintenance, robots like these are seriously threatening the job security of construction workers.

With their increased productivity and streamlined performance, they could quite severely impact the human presence you’ll find on a construction site.

Engineering And Automated Careers

According to Construct Connect, one of the most vulnerable industries that could face change thanks to automation is operating engineers.

In fact, this industry has an 88% chance of being automated.

The reason behind this is that plenty of machinery is already operated automatically on construction sites, so it would make sense why this would set to increase.

With the advances in technology happening for automated machinery, whether it be self-driving cars or self-operating lifts, there is a lot of room for growth and expansion.

However, this may not be as likely as people think.

A job like mechanical engineering, or even something as complex and specialist as domestic renewable energy engineering, requires too much skill and talent.

This is something that would be extremely hard for a robot or machine to replicate, no matter how talented, and therefore isn’t something you should be worried about.

At least, for now.

Consider Human Nature

Whereas it’s inevitable to see some automation in trade careers, it’s unlikely that all trade jobs will be replaced by robots any time soon.

If at all!

One of the most important things to consider when reassuring yourself that a robot won’t be taking your job is that life is unpredictable.

Not everything goes according to plan, and not everything works the way it was meant – or programmed – to.

This means that it’s nearly impossible to rely on a robot or machinery to start making decisions about your job.

How many times have you been on a work site or on a job to find that something has gone wrong? Perhaps you’ve run out of materials or tools that you urgently need, perhaps someone has gotten injured through no fault of their own, or maybe you just need to change the plan and think quickly on your feet.

This is where the difficulties of automated machinery or robotics arise.

How is a robot with no concept of time, a client’s needs, or safety, supposed to make decisions quickly on their feet – or wheels?

As well as this, many trade careers are creative too.

No matter how intelligent or well programmed a robot may be, it could be difficult for them to intricately weld two pieces of sheet metal together with the same skill of an experienced welder.

Meaning, that whilst it’s entirely possible for your job to adapt and change (as often jobs do), it’s unlikely that you’ll be training a robot to take over your job anytime soon.  

Some Things You Just Can’t Replicate

Whilst technology is certainly making some impressive advances with regards to mimicking human bodies and human structure, there are somethings that you just can’t replicate.

For example, robots and machines simply do not have the dexterity and coordination that we human beings do.

Robots do not have fine motor skills and do not have sensitive nerve endings or senses like a human hand. Because of this, a robot or machine would struggle to do more complicated roles like being an electrician or wiring something.

They simply do not have the nimbleness to do so.

What’s more, a robot can’t feel the weight of an object or how a tool is working.

Consequently, this means that it is incredibly difficult for a robot to create and build with the same skill and appreciation of complexity and design as a human.

There is no way for a machine to tell if something looks good or is in need of improvement. These things are subjective and cannot be quantified or programmed in, these judgements are based on the individual.

A machine cannot replicate or mimic what a human eye sees no matter how high definition the sensors may be.

Meaning, that some skills and some talents just come from human experience. For now, a machine cannot replicate this.

Final Thoughts

Whilst it’s tempting to get swept up in the robot hysteria that news would have us believe, it’s actually unlikely that anything will change any time soon.

And it’s even more unlikely for you to be losing your job.

People sometimes confuse “automation” with “a robot is going to replace me” – it’s entirely possible that plenty of these trades careers will see automation in the future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Wall-E will be your next co-worker any time soon.

In fact, automation in your industry may in fact be your friend.

It could help to simplify your workload and streamline productivity, cutting out any excess labour and making work much more efficient.

As well as this, whilst robotics and machines are existing, there will always be a need for someone to make them.

So whilst you may find yourself moving away from a mechanical engineering job to an operational engineer job – there will always be work for someone who is good with their hands.

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