The Robot Apocalypse ain't got nothin’ on the skilled trades.
We’ve all heard similar cries; “The evil robots are coming to steal our jobs and livelihoods!” Okay, we’re not quite at the level of fending off menacing robots… yet. That being said, there have been some pretty impressive technological advances in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) over the last few decades, and with so many jobs predicted to be lost to automation, maybe it’s time we start thinking about robot-proofing our careers.
The good news is, if you’re working in the skilled trades, or on track to enter them, then you’re already strategically investing in special skills that robots won’t be able to threaten anytime soon. In fact, advances in technology, specifically Virtual Reality (VR) for training, are only helping the future outlook of the trades.
Why Skilled Trades Jobs Safe From the Robot Apocalypse
1. Robots don’t have enough dexterity or fine motor control to compete with the hands of human skilled workers
Machines may be really good at repeating specifically defined procedures, but when it comes to fine motor skills- hasta la vista, robot claws.
Manipulation is hard, and robot grippers just can’t articulate well enough to grip and manipulate most of the kinds of tools and objects used in the trades. Grippers lack the ability to feel how stiff or soft, heavy or light an object is to make appropriate judgement about grip force. The human hand is “hands-down” better than robot grippers, with millions of mechanoreceptors (sense organs or cells that respond to mechanical stimuli such as touch or sound) that relay information back on posture, pressure, texture and grip stiffness. The skin on our hands is glabrous—uh, what? What that means is that we have unique sweat pores that create friction between objects and our skin.
“For a robotic hand to be practical and even come close to a human’s in ability, it would have to be firm but flexible; be able to sense cold, heat and touch at high resolutions; and be gentle enough to pick up fragile objects but robust enough to withstand a beating. Oh, and on top of all that, it would have to be cheap.” (David Levin, Discover Magazine)
2. Robots can’t mimic the dynamic capabilities of human motion or deal with unpredictability
Skilled trade professionals must be agile, perform a wide range of physical motions, apply hand-eye coordination during tasks, and adapt to a variety of unpredictable technical challenges. Take an HVAC technician for example. A residential service call can often require going up and down stairs, moving from indoor to outdoor units to troubleshoot equipment, using special handheld tools, communicating with clients, and sourcing replacement parts. These dynamic roles would certainly be tough to replace with automation and machines.
3. As long as there are machines, there will be a need for skilled trade professionals to repair them.
As more digital devices and AI gadgets are integrated into the trades, the demand for skilled workers who know how to operate, repair, and maintain these devices will increase (IQS Newsroom). Let’s look at Electricians as an example. With our ever-increasing dependence on digital technology, our reliance on electricity and electrical appliances is only going to grow (Platinum Electricians). As long as we rely on power as a means to conduct our lives, we’ll need people to install and maintain it (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
How AI Technology is Adding Value to the Skilled Trades Industry
The combination of Skilled labor and AI (artificial intelligence) is incredibly beneficial to businesses since it can improve communication, organization, efficiency and flexibility of work schedules.
The skilled trades will always require communication between those who are needing a service, and those who are providing the service. Just think for a second about all the ways smartphones have simplified our lives in this area.
“AI can make communication between the two parties easier… when good communication exists between these parties, meeting the client’s expectations becomes easier.” (Brian Gaysunas, tilr) The end result? More satisfied clients, a greater number of completed jobs, and higher revenues earned.
AI can be a huge helping hand when it comes to organization and efficiency as well. Things like task and client management software can house client profiles, set appointments, assign technicians to jobs, and track progress. Once service appointments are divided up, automated programs can do things like send out notifications and reminders to ensure that each job is attended to, and that all client information is available at hand.
Better organization means greater efficiency, and more efficiency leads to working only when needed. AI is making it easier to have full control over technician schedules by automating menial jobs that are a strain on skilled resources, while matching the right people to the right tasks.
Embracing VR Technology for Skilled Trades Training
One of the biggest adoptions of technology in recent years has been the use of VR technology to train employees across all industries. With a massive, worldwide shortage of skilled labor, Virtual Reality and immersive learning will be among some of the best solutions available to assist with filling all those job vacancies.
Virtual reality training means:
- Improved training efficiency
- Faster learning, on-ramping new techs quickly
- Fewer errors means less wasted time in the field
- Scalability, so you can grow your team effectively
Interplay Learning is a pioneer in the skilled trades training space, developing 3D simulations and VR technology to fight the growing skills gap issue.
We’re a long way off from robots taking over jobs in the skilled trades. Until they develop features like glabrous hands, we’re pretty optimistic that skilled workers are among the safest in the labor force from the evil robots.