COVID-19’s shift from localized outbreak to global pandemic has transformed everything about this year. One of the most notable parts of our lives that have changed is the way we work. Industries and roles that had resisted automation had to embrace it, and others that were most likely to move toward automation sped up that transformation.
Here’s how the machine learning-based automation push as a result of COVID-19 is affecting 10 different types of professionals.
- Retail professionals: A June release from Statistics Canada identified service occupations as the job category second most at risk of automation-related transformation. The retail service category is one where other types of workers — younger and less-educated ones — are also highly represented, which adds to those risks. In Australia, the chain Woolworths announced a significant investment in robotic fulfillment automation, necessary for smooth operations in an increasingly online industry.
- Administration professionals: When Takeda recruited participants for a clinical trial for a potential COVID-19 treatment, the company used automation software for time-consuming tasks such as opening files and copying and pasting text. Robotic process automation (RPA) software is an emerging area of automation, one that promises to free up administrators for less-routine tasks, but the category’s importance became more important once remote work became necessary.
- Manufacturing professionals: Growth is expected in the global AI for manufacturing market, projected to hit nearly $10 billion by 2027. One category for that growth is collaborative robots, or cobots, robots designed to work alongside someone. The cobots can handle repetitive tasks or tasks that have injury risks, such as lifting, while the employee does the work that requires fine motor skills. Quebec company Miralis said the use of such robots has improved productivity and company growth.
- Care professionals: Outbreaks and deaths in nursing and long-term care homes are one of the most tragic stories of the pandemic. Some of those facilities are looking to automation to prevent future outbreaks and improve overall care. RPA software from companies such as CarePredict helps staffers manage the double burdens of patient care and infection prevention. Automated staffing and scheduling solutions can help facilities avoid shortages that could lead to dangerous situations, and automating tasks like medication dispensing can reduce the burden on those staffers.
- Delivery professionals: Buzz around autonomous vehicles seemed to drop after a fatal accident in Texas, but the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly made no-contact delivery options a lot more appealing. Starship Technologies continued its expansion this year, sending its delivery robots into more cities. However, though interest in autonomous delivery vehicles is up, the technology remains niche.
- Food service professionals: The risks for food workers during the pandemic have been notable. Fruit pickers and meat packers have experienced outbreaks, and restaurant workers have to manage the risks of indoor employment. Many restaurants moved to delivery and take-out options to survive COVID-mandated shutdowns, but other measures in the food industry have also emerged in the past few months. For example, the robot Sally was been put to use to make salads for hospital and university cafeterias.
- Hospitality professionals: The hospitality and travel industries were badly hit by the pandemic, but automated solutions offer a way to provide some services with distancing in place. Artificial intelligence advancements were already finding their way into the industry via services such as automated retail, and such no-contact options have a new appeal in an industry usually characterized by the personal touch.
- Healthcare professionals: RPA has a vital role to play in the healthcare industry, especially during a time when professionals are in crisis mode. In Ireland, for example, software solutions implemented to free nurses up from administrative work in a testing lab were essential when the pandemic hit. Tasks such as notifying patients about test results were automated, giving nurses more time for patient care.
- Customer service professionals: Customer service is already a sector that has seen an automation push, in particular in cases where customers have simple queries that are often asked and easily answered. By automating some customer service offerings via chatbots and assistants that use natural language processing, some support could be provided to customers without distancing concerns.
- Programming professionals: Of course, programmers and coders are required to build and update the automated solutions that allow other businesses to continue their operations. But they can also benefit from automation via low-code tools. These applications allow non-programmers to automate basic tasks or processes, freeing up the experts to work on difficult or customized coding.