Automation in food is ‘no threat to jobs’

Food industry automation is generating demand for new skills

A drive towards automation in the food industry should not be seen as a threat to workers’ jobs, as it is likely to lead to the creation of a variety of skilled roles, a consultant in the field has claimed.

While many tasks, such as loading, unloading and bagging, may soon be completed using robotics, roles that require a high level of machine intelligence (HLMI) could create new jobs in fields such as robotic engineering and data analytics, said Dan Plimmer, lead consultant at Jonathan Lee Recruitment.

Those concerned with the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ (Industry 4.0) fall into two distinct camps – those who see it as an opportunity, and those who perceive it to be a threat, he suggested.

‘A terrifying prospect’

“It is no surprise that the topic has created media speculation – the reported potential loss of tens of thousands of jobs is a terrifying prospect, particularly if your job is set to be replaced by HLMI, achieved when unaided machines accomplish a task better and more cost-effectively than humans,” Plimmer said.

Many industry observers believe that automation would result in improved accuracy, quality, repeatability and productivity.

However, for this to be truly effective, Plimmer said this required the upskilling and diversification of the workforce, which would in turn provide an opportunity for workers to train in alternative disciplines such as robotic engineering, supervisory control and data acquisition engineering, data analytics, multi-skilled maintenance fitters and programmable logic controller programming.

‘Career opportunities’

“The fourth industrial revolution offers career opportunities that are varied and interesting. For example, in the future we will see experts in the field of the ‘digital twin’, when a physical production line or plant is replicated digitally,” he explained.

“The use of a digital twin enables businesses to overcome barriers to innovation by trialling technology virtually before investing in physical updates and alterations.”

As automation and robotics become more established, the potentially displaced workforce will simply be evolving and adapting, fulfilling new – previously non-existent – jobs, while HLMI will do the simple tasks that unskilled workers have historically undertaken, Plimmer claimed.

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