COVID-19 may hasten use of robots and smart machines, leading to further decline of routine jobs in Canada

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      Canadian workers have lost jobs because of COVID-19.

      The situation could get even worse as the pandemic may also cause a long-term shift in the workplace, leading to more cuts in jobs, particularly routine occupations.

      This even as routine occupations have been already on the decline in Canada for the last 30 years.

      Recent advances in artifical intelligence and smart technology have only accelerated this trend.

      COVID-19 may simply hasten this shift.

      The pandemic could prompt businesses to employ more machines as a way of stopping the transmission of the novel coronavirus.

      This may lead to further job losses.

      Workers performing manual routine tasks like production as well as those doing cognitive routine work such as sales and clerical support could be affected.

      These are some of the highlights of a new study by Statistics Canada, which looked at the evolving nature of the workplace from 1987 to 2018.

      “While gradual changes in the nature of work were observed over the 31-year period studied, events such as the COVID-19 pandemic may prompt employers to adopt automation technology more quickly,” the study notes.

      The authors state it remains to be seen how work will be altered because of the pandemic.

      “Regardless, it is clear that, as technological advances enable more tasks to be automated in the workplace, it will become increasingly important to monitor how Canadian jobs are changing,” they suggest.

      The study is titled ‘The changing nature of work in Canada amid recent advances in automation technology’.

      The paper was authored by Statistics Canada’s Kristyn Frank, Zhe Yang, and Marc Frenette.

      It was published in the first issue of the new Statistics Canada publication Economic and Social Reports released Wednesday (January 27).

      The agency’s publication The Daily made a summary of some of the findings.

      The daily publication notes that the share of workers employed in production, craft, repair and operative occupations, which are classified as routine and manual tasks, dropped from 29.7 percent in 1987 to 22.2 percent in 2018.

      Meanwhile, the share employed in sales, clerical and administrative support occupations, which are classified as routine and cognitive tasks, also decreased over the same 31-year period from 27.3 percent in 1987 to 24.9 percent in 2018.

      Production, craft, repair and operative occupations include mine labourers and mechanical assemblers and inspectors.

      Sales, clerical and administrative support occupations include receptionists and retail salespeople.

      Like in the previous three decades, possible changes in the Canadian workplace will not be sudden.

      These changes will be cumulative and build over time.

      In the study, authors Frank, Yang and Frenette say that “jobs may not necessarily be at risk of being cut simply because it is technologically feasible to automate the tasks associated with those jobs”.

      “First—and perhaps foremost—firms require the funds to invest in the technology,” they note.

      Likewise, “labour laws and union rules may prevent or delay job losses in many cases”.

      “Moreover, society may not be ready to consume the goods and services made available by robots (e.g., medical patients may always prefer a human doctor),” the authors state.

      However, events like the COVID-19 pandemic “may prompt employers to adopt automation technology more quickly in an effort to limit the risks associated with workers’ vulnerability to the virus”.

      “While it is too early to determine how the pandemic may affect the work activities of Canadians, it may play a role in the workplace moving forward,” the authors say.

      For details, see here.