By 2022, an operational stock of almost 4 million industrial robots are expected to be working in factories worldwide. These robots will play a vital role in automating production to speed up the post-COVID-19 economy. At the same time, robots are driving demand for skilled workers, therefore educational systems must effectively adjust to this demand. That’s according to a new positioning paper, “Robots and the Workplace of the Future,” from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).
“Governments and companies around the globe now need to focus on providing the right skills necessary to work with robots and intelligent automation systems,” says Milton Guerry, President of IFR. “This is important to take maximum advantage of the opportunities that these technologies offer. The post-corona recovery will further accelerate the deployment of robotics. Policies and strategies are important to help workforces make the transition to a more automated economy.”
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Says Saadia Zahidi, Head of Education, Gender and Employment Initiatives at the World Economic Forum, “Very few countries are taking the bull by the horns when it comes to adapting education systems for the age of automation. Those that are have long had a clear focus on human capital development. Countries in northern Europe as well as Singapore are probably running some of the most useful experiments for the future world of work.”
According to the “automation readiness index,” published by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), only four countries have already established mature education policies to deal with the challenges of an automated economy. South Korea is the category leader, followed by Estonia, Singapore, and Germany. Countries like Japan, the U.S., and France are developed, and China was ranked as emerging. The EIU summed up the order of the day for governments: more study, multi-stakeholder dialogue, and international knowledge sharing.
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On a company level, change hiring is an option as a short-term strategy. “If you can’t find the experienced people, you have to break down your hiring practices to skill sets and not titles,” advises Dr. Byron Clayton, CEO of Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM). “You have to hire more for potential. If you can’t find the person who is experienced, then you have to find a person that has potential to learn that job.”
Robot suppliers can support education of the workforce with practice-oriented training. Says IFR General Secretary Dr. Susanne Bieller, “Retraining the existing workforce is only a short-term measure. We must already start way earlier—curricula for schools and undergraduate education need to match the demand of the industry for the workforce of the future. Demand for technical and digital skills is increasing, but equally important are cognitive skills like problem-solving and critical thinking. Economies must embrace automation and build the skills required to profit—otherwise they will be at a competitive disadvantage.”