“Automation” is a word that excites just as many people as it scares. Just keying in “automation is” into google and the first suggested result that pops up is “automation is killing jobs”, followed by “automation is the future”. As a company that continuously building products that will automate many business processes, while simultaneously providing people around Southeast Asia a flexible way to earn money, we believe that automation and job creation can coexist and thrive together.
But first, let’s look at the argument on the opposite side of the spectrum.
Automation is Killing Jobs
We see what’s happening – jobs are being replaced by machines that can do things faster and more accurately. This is a fear that’s shared between bankers and hard labourers alike. At an exclusive gathering of central bankers that was held in June 2017, David Autor, a professor at MIT even called it the “Robocalyse”. Despite growing economies worldwide, monetary policy makers have realised a decline in earning power in some parts of society, causing a serious concern for joblessness in the future.
In fact, it’s even shown in the chart below that showed the declining number of oil & gas employees from 2015 to 2017 but an increasing number of oil rigs between 2016 and 2017.
This was caused by the introduction of automated oil rigs known as “Iron Roughnecks” that connect drill pipe segments, leading to a loss of over 400,000 jobs in the span of 2 years. For most of the medium-skilled workers who may never get their jobs back, they have had to resort to low-skilled roles instead to make ends meet. It may paint a dark future for many of us, some more so than others, but do we really need to be so afraid?
The fact of the matter is, automation is here and it is replacing many jobs worldwide. But is it necessarily a threat as it’s referred to in this article?
That’s where we’d like to contribute our 2 cents to the heated discussion.
Automation is the Future
The most common argument for this is simply that automation is inevitable. Humans will never stop innovating and inventing new ways of making life more convenient and efficient. Throughout industrial changes over the years, people have always feared that which is new but we’ve also found ways to adapt.
“Burying our heads in the sand and arming our children with skills for roles that will no longer exist is certainly not the answer. Neither is clinging to business models of the past or recreating the good-old days. The times demand new skills, new mindsets, new competencies, and new institutions.”
– Anurag Harsh via Huffington Post
Rather than fear automation, we need to embrace it and use it as an opportunity to upskill not just ourselves but the future workforce. As our COO and co-founder, Susian interacts with our SupaAgents on a daily basis and believes in being able to provide 1 million jobs to SupaAgents even with the advent of automation.
“More complex work will need to be done by humans, and so that means we have to upskill our SupaAgents to take on more skilled and brainier work. People will become operators of the machines and the machines complement the work that we do, not take jobs away.”
– Susian Yeap, COO, Supahands
It goes without saying that while this is seemingly forcing people to upskill, it also paints a brighter picture for them as they become qualified to “redefine their role in the ecosystem” and thus “increasing pay and earnings capability” according to Mark, Supahands’ CEO & co-founder.
Of course, we’re not blind to many arguing that high skilled labour and learning to operate new inventions is being taken up by those in their 20s and 30s. But we believe that there are countless roles in the market that still require the all-important human touch that benefits from years of experience. No matter the industry, the existence of a human relationship between vendor and customer/client is always bound to increase retention and brand advocacy.
For example, it’s arguable that the role of a sales team is not much different from what it used to be 10 years ago – and it has a good reason not to be – “People, in general, will always like to do business with a person rather than signing over large deals on a chatbot” says Greg, Head of Sales at Supahands. With sales in particular, it is something that ages like fine wine as a person builds up a good repertoire and network of reliable and trustworthy contacts over time. While Greg’s team for example does rely on automation to generate leads or conduct research, relationships are still built with clients in person by each individual employee.
Furthermore, there’s also the influx of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies of late which showed us that machines are unable to operate independently without some form of human intervention. Machines need us in order to learn and we need machines to take care of menial work so we can focus on honing skills that make us more valuable.
“AI is expanding what machines can do, covering specific problem domains. However, humans are needed to validate and aim for 100% accuracy.”
– Khaled Abbas, CTO, Supahands
Behind every chatbot, self-driving car and voice assistant are hundreds and thousands of hours of human labour put into preparing the right data sets in order to actually make these smart programs intelligent.
Let’s not move in the opposite direction from the rest of the world out of fear of the unfamiliar but find a place for an improved version of ourselves. Efficiency of workflow and processes takes priority with businesses nowadays as everything moves at lightning speeds. Mark summarised our goals by saying, “we will automate steps where automation makes economic sense for ourselves (and our SupaAgents) and for our clients” and you can either “disrupt yourself (right now) or be disrupted by someone else”.