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21st Century workplace

Work-It: Are robots really going to steal your job?

With tech’s rapid development, are we really at the mercy of machines or is it all just hype?

IN OUR NEW series, we talk to entrepreneurs and experts to delve into the most pressing issues for those trying to make it in the ever-changing business world. Whether you are founding, running or working in a fast-growing company, we will dig a little deeper into the ingredients that make up the right stuff.

There’s a robot that looks like a giant human arm and it flips burgers all day in a fast food chain in California. It stands over a grill, using thermal imaging and 3D optics to see when is the perfect time to flip the meat.

Any fear of robots taking over your job could peak at the moment when you see Flippy, which resembles an arm, serving burgers with a silver spatula instead of a hand.

According to a recent survey by Griffith College, more than 40% of Irish workers are concerned that robots will replace their job. The survey interviewed 1,000 adults nationally.

Robbie Smyth, deputy head of communications and media at Griffith College, told Fora the findings show there is a need for people to upskill throughout their working lives.

But are robots really going to take over our jobs? Smyth said despite new technologies the human element will always be needed.

“If the machines are doing a lot for us, the bits where we do talk become even more important,” he said.

He explained that every five years the media faculty carries out a review to validate its programmes and as part of that, it reaches out to the media. The main feedback, he received this year after carrying out the review, is the need for students to be armed with soft skills.

“Of the 58 people I interviewed, they all said a student needs to be able to pick up the phone and interview someone, they need to show initiative, work on teams and do presentations so they can make a pitch,” he said.

“You might have to learn some data analysis and there might be some machine learning in your role but discussing your findings and presenting them to co-workers and developing strategies is going to be the key.”

Smyth said that within the media, he is starting to see that artificial intelligence could create a graph for someone or put together the basics of an article.

“With things like a weather forecast, a machine could produce it looking at the data. If it’s told what’s the temperature, what’s the likelihood of rain, where will the rain will fall,” he said.

shutterstock_1104780941 (1) Shutterstock / PopTika Shutterstock / PopTika / PopTika

Micheal Cassidy, chief technology officer at the Irish Manufacturing Research Centre (IMR), told Fora, if anything automation would increase the number of roles.

IMR is a not-for-profit research and technology organisation that just this week received €23 million in funding over five years from the government as part of its Industry 4.0 strategy to respond to technological change.

At the moment the centre is working on flexible automation so that robots or machines can act differently in an environment. It can be achieved through a mixture of data analysis as well as automation. 

“We are looking at possibilities like if a factory has a rush order coming in, can my robot reconfigure the manufacturing environment to accommodate that order?” he said.

Cassidy said the centre looks at technologies that are close to market, with many industry members concerned how it will affect employee’s skills.

“Inevitably automation leads to the erosion of some low value, repetitive jobs but it creates a greater number of high-tech jobs,” he said.

“Those robots need people to programme them and to maintain them so we are seeing an evolution in the jobs market.”

He said the jobs will not be taken over, but they will “dramatically change” over the next year.

“What you see from companies who invest in automation (is they) tend to increase their workforce because the company grows,” he said.

Cassidy said Ireland needs to “embrace” the change and give people the right skills to compete in the new environment.

He said the research centre has come up with a few solutions to combat the skills gap and provides training programmes alongside research and development.

“Not only do we work with industry members on solving a problem but we transfer the knowledge of how to integrate that into the companies themselves,” he said.

“What you want is a complete package of knowledge transfer and technology to make companies self-sufficient for the future so they can start working on these things.”

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Written by Laura Roddy and posted on

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