By CHIMA AKWAJA, TONY AWUNOR, JIDE FABAMISE and BUKOLA IDOWU
World Bank President, Jim Yong’s recent assertion that automation will wipe out two-thirds of jobs in the developing countries is already manifesting, with about 50 per cent of jobs across various industries now taken over by robots.
Price Water Coppers, (PwC) has shed light on what the robotic takeover means for the factory and workers, noting that industrial robots are on the verge of revolutionizing manufacturing.
As they become smarter, faster and cheaper, they are being called upon to do more, PwC observed, saying they are taking on more “human” capabilities and traits such as sensing, dexterity, memory and trainability.
According to PwC, the robots are taking on more jobs such as picking and packaging, testing or inspecting products, or assembling minute electronics.
It said, “In the big picture, automation means progress. Robots are designed to perform the same dull and repetitive tasks currently performed by manual labour but in a safer, faster and more consistent fashion.
“As robots become a core part of a competitive manufacturing business, the demand for higher skilled robot-savvy engineers, programmers and service technicians will grow. And the more high-wage job opportunities are created, the more Americans can enjoy a higher standard of living improving our economic status in the world”.
In the manufacturing industry, John Dulchinos, president and CEO of Adept Technology said, “Not only is the robotic takeover inevitable, but it is a natural part of a continually advancing society. If you look out far enough, machines are going to win. The human body was not designed to be a factory machine. It was designed to be a thinking machine.”
With automation becoming standard practice, what will happen to the line and assembly workers? He said if nothing was done to transition these workers into new roles alongside their robotic counterparts, they might not be far from the unemployment line.
Dulchinos stated that summits are one opportunity for manufacturers to begin discussing solutions as the problem is large and widespread and will take a concerted effort by corporations, government officials, manufacturers, technologists and the public at large to make the transition to an automated manufacturing floor casualty-free.
A recent visit to Dangote Sinotruk West Africa Ltd, located in Lagos where full range of commercial vehicles covering heavy duty trucks, medium trucks, light trucks are produced showed that new technologies are fast replacing human input into vehicle manufacturing.
With fewer workers in the plant, the factory is expected to assemble and produce 10,000 trucks annually. Checks show that their production line including turning over machine, filling machine, inspection line, debugging workshops to finished products are all dominated and driven by high tech with very few humans.
Auto mechanics are not left out of the job loss. For example, the recent Interactive Voice Response (IVR) launched by Automedics Nigeria Limited to assist motorists is fast gaining ground.
IVR came to limelight as a result of the superlative success of the interactive, solution-providing Automedics radio show across the major cities of the federation. It allows motorists and mechanics (who usually need invaluable advice) to call the operators anytime of the day and get the help they need about their vehicles or on the work they are doing. This weeds out the roles roadside mechanics play to most motorists on the Nigerian roads.
At the global scene, driverless car has started to throw a big challenge to those who take driving as their sole profession. Stakeholders are already wondering what car manufacturers may be up to in the next decade.
President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Dr. Frank Jacob, commended the World Bank president, Jim Yong, over the statement. In a telephone conversation with LEADERSHIP Sunday in Lagos, he said “what we need to do is to look into the area where labour is needed, especially in the area of SMEs who are the major employers of labour but in the manufacturing, latest technologies need to be introduced.” Technology, no doubt has reduced human activities in the auto industry.
Speaking on how it has reduced workforce in the sector, managing director of Allen Motors Nigeria Limited, Mr Allen Akpu told LEADERSHIP Sunday over 50 percent of the work hitherto done by men and women is now perfectly done by technology.
He said the only way to cope with the revolution in the industry was to be abreast with trends in the industry and also to be up to date with whatever was going on.
Another car dealer, Peter Nwagbor and member of United Berger Auto Dealers Association (UBADA) in Apapa, Lagos said online car marketing platforms were already driving local car dealers out of the business.
He said at the press of a button, auto platforms such as Chekki, Jiji and others could supply cars with ease. Agreeing that some of them are bedevilled with scams and uncertainties, he maintained that many are still doing well, beating conventional dealers to their game.
Mike Finn, a transport and logistics expert said it was the same challenge in their sector, adding those who don’t want to upgrade themselves will be chased out of the system.
Head, corporate services at Suntrust Bank, Raymond Onomerike noted that automation is to make things much easier and faster in the banking industry. He believes that this is just the beginning as more banks will close branches. He explained that most of these branches are not profit making. They are just increasing operating expense.
“Opening a branch means replicating what you have at the head office. You have the physical structure; you have the security, the power generators, personnel, bullion van, vaults, cleaners, marketers etc. Most of the branches cannot even pay the salaries and for most of them, they rely on maybe like 10 to 20 customers. So rather you give these few customers your mobile app.
“Let them have internet banking so that instead of having a full branch, they can operate without necessarily coming into the bank. Banking has gone beyond a physical structure. In those days, people go to bank and they are given tally numbers. You can go to bank and spend hours just to collect a small amount, but with the introduction of ATM and POS, people don’t go to the banks anymore.
“You go to ATM or use the POS to do transactions and that we are saying in Suntrust bank that we are going to take the bank to you, you can do all your banking transactions right in your home or office. What do you want to do? You want to transfer; you have your phone and mobile apps, so you just do your transfers. You really don’t need the stress of leaving your home or office and going to a bank,” he stated.
Ecobank Nigeria recently announced it would be closing down 74 branches and step up on its electronic banking, a move that will see some job cuts. The managing director of the bank, Charles Kie, had explained that the bank hoped to shift its activities to digital channels and improve customers’ experience at reduced cost.