Automation at Work

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automationWelcome to our free lesson Automation at Work to give you practice for the IB English B, IELTS and CAE exams. This is just one of the many lessons available to reinforce your learning so you feel confident when the IB English Language B, IELTS and CAE exam day arrives. Our lessons are centred around five prescribed themes; identities, experiences, human ingenuity, social organization and sharing the planet. These themes are featured in the reading, writing, speaking and listening parts of the exam.

reading practiceAutomation at Work: Reading Practice

In this lesson, we will practice mainly our reading skills by learning about automation at work.

Exercise 1Exercise 2Exercise 3Word List

Watch this video that describes the future of automation at work.  Answer the questions as you watch the video.

Click here to view the transcript

A: Hi, I’m Elizabeth.

B: Hi, I’m Robo Thespian.

A: Nice to meet you.

B: Likewise.

A: This is a humanoid robot, which means it looks, it talks, and it even acts, well, like a human. So does that mean it could take a human’s job like mine?

B: You better believe it. Nah, I’m only joking. Not really.

A: There’s no denying robots and automation are increasingly part of our daily lives. Just look around the grocery store, or the highway. Or in the case of Robo Thespian here, even at the theater.

B: I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain.

A: The rise of robots has led to some pretty scary warnings about the future of work.

C: Robots will be able to do everything better than us.

A: A recent study found up to 670,000 U.S. jobs were lost to robots between 1990 and 2007. And that number is likely to go up. A widely-cited study from 2013 found nearly half of all jobs in the U.S. are in danger of being automated over the next 20 years. Occupations that require repetitive and predictable tasks in transportation, logistics and administrative support were especially high-risk. And just think, robots don’t need health benefits, vacation or even sleep for that matter.

But the debate over whether robots will take over all of our jobs is by no means settled. Many economists argue automation will ultimately create new jobs. After all, someone has to program the robots, right?

Let’s go back to the 1850s, when trains were the most popular mode of transportation. This chart shows the number of locomotive engineers, railroad conductors and brakemen increasing by nearly 600%. But that growth slowed in the early 1900s.

Why? You guessed it. The automobile came along. Car mechanic and repairman jobs surged even though railroad jobs began to disappear. And some companies say the same thing will happen when robots move into the marketplace.

A survey of 20,000 employers from 42 countries found that the IT, customer service and advanced manufacturing industries will add workers over the next two years as a result of automation.

It’s hard to imagine that robots could replicate human characteristics, like empathy or compassion, that are required in many jobs. I mean, would you really want a robot as your nurse, babysitter or teacher? But even if robots don’t take our jobs entirely, research shows they will significantly change day-to-day tasks in the workplace.

This is particularly a problem for lower-skilled workers who aren’t able to retrain for new jobs. They might get stuck with lower wages in a world with more robots, and that could make income inequality even worse.

These guys are making a lot of things uncertain right now. But one thing that’s clear is skills training is required if we hope to get along with friends like them in the workplace.

B: I think we’re going to get along just fine.

You will read an article online about the concerns due to automation in the workplace by Seamus Nevin. 

We are living in a time of major change in the labour market. Recent studies have predicted that over the next 20 years, 15 million UK jobs, about half the total, are at risk of being lost to automation.

Whereas previous job-replacing technological change was limited to tasks requiring human brawn, the next wave of technology looks like replacing human brains.

If managed well, this revolution is not necessarily a cause for concern. Since the first Industrial Revolution, every new labour-saving technology has been met with anxiety about the impact on jobs, but concerns over mass unemployment have never materialized. In fact, technology has been a net creator of employment. Efficiencies gained through new technologies reduce the cost of production, which, when passed on to the consumer, increase spending power, stimulating demand and creating new jobs. Rather than making humans redundant, technology has simply shifted work to other areas.

The fact that 20m jobs disappeared in Britain between 1980 and 2000 shows that predictions of 15m automated jobs would not be unprecedented. The lesson from the 1980s, however, is the importance of enabling those who have lost their job to re-skill in order to find alternative employment.

The UK education system began to take its present form with the establishment of our current exam system in 1858. At its core, this system is characterised by competition between classmates, with students learning and are being assessed as individuals. Yet, as technology and globalisation progress, working with others is becoming increasingly important. In an era of skilled factory work, this mass public examinations system was designed to assess and rank school leavers on their ability to recall information and apply the standard methods required to satisfy the needs of 19th-century employment. Yet today, method and recall are the very things that are easiest to automate.

Instead, ‘soft’ skills such as resourcefulness, creativity, and emotional intelligence are the likely domains where humans will retain a comparative advantage because these are skills where computers complement our abilities rather than substitute for them. Even though today online communication over vast distances is possible at almost zero cost, face-to-face interactions are still the key engine of collaboration and growth.

Many people today, particularly younger generations, will work in jobs that do not exist yet, in industries that haven’t been created. Most will change jobs multiple times and brief periods of unemployment, for people at all levels, will become more common. Consequently, there is a need to ensure better career guidance.

A young person today begins to make choices in education that affect the skills for their career as much as a decade before entering the workforce, by which time, technology and consumer preferences will have altered significantly. In the UK schools system, where learner choice is increasingly important, it is vital that students, teachers, and parents, can access quality and timely information on the likely skills needed by employers in the future. Big data will no doubt prove pivotal in this.

The onus will also be on employers, who bear responsibility for helping young people learn about employment. The UKCES employment and skills survey found that while 66% of employers think work experience is important, only 38% offer it. There needs to be much stronger links between schools and employers. There is also a need to support in-work progression. Government estimates show that around 30% of graduates are still in entry-level positions five years after graduating. Career guidance must develop a focus not simply on helping people into work, but also on helping those already in work to progress.

Affordability is the biggest barrier to workers enrolling in part-time or further education. Thankfully, this is one area where automation offers not a problem but a solution. The growth of MOOCs, Personalised Learning Algorithms, and computer-based collaborative and virtual reality tools are enabling people to access independent vocational learning ‘anywhere, anytime’ in a way that can be adjusted to meet the student’s individual needs, interests, and abilities. Computer-based learning is not a perfect substitute for a traditional university education. Nevertheless, the cost savings, convenience, and flexibility it affords have the potential to revolutionise education and training.

That said, while on-the-job training and e-learning offer part of the solution, on their own, they will not be enough. The government should also explore tax incentives to encourage continuous engagement in education for adults. A tax nudge would be simple to introduce but more importantly, it would represent an initial step in aligning the UK’s fiscal policies with some of its most significant employment challenges.

If the UK is to build a competitive economy for the 21st century, a shift to lifelong learning will be crucial to ensuring workers have the skills they need to succeed in the new world of work.

 14%

1. The author does not feel that people should be worried about technology replacing humans.

2. Technology according to the author, has increased unemployment.

3. The author feels that 'method' and 'recall' are useful skills in a digital environment.

4. The author thinks that people who develop offline communication skills will be successful in the future.

5. Because technology changes quickly and individuals change jobs quickly, there is no reason for educational organisations to consult business.

6. The author feels that face-to-face higher education is superior to online learning platforms.

7. The author suggests that the government pays adults to go continue to go to school, during their working career.


 

This online article is available here.

Answers

1. True
2. False
3. False
4. True
5. False
6. True
7. False

Here are words associated with automation at work that you may find useful to learn.

You can find more advanced level word searches here.

Here are the keywords and phrases covered in this lesson:

  • administrative support
  • advanced manufacturing
  • automation
  • career guidance
  • collaboration
  • convenience
  • competitive economy
  • computer-based learning
  • engagement
  • employers
  • employment challenges
  • humanoid robot
  • logistics
  • lower-skilled workers
  • soft skills
  • technological change
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