In Canada, more than one million positions are currently vacant. Companies must therefore find solutions to hire and retain the people who work for them. Task automation is part of the solution.
Despite persistent myths, partly linked to images in science fiction movies of robots wreaking havoc, machines could indeed help us. According to a recent study conducted by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), businesses that have automated certain aspects of their operations will have less difficulty in hiring. Plus, they are almost twice as likely to see their sales exceed the average for their sector.
However, only one in four Canadian SMEs have automated one or more of their tasks, according to the BDC. “Yes, robotization — like other technological developments — will make it possible to counter the lack of manpower for certain positions, such as in the manufacturing industries,” confirms Sylvie St-Onge, professor at HEC Montréal. “It will also allow businesses to remain more productive.”
Thus, repetitive and monotonous tasks such as data entry and form filling will benefit from being automated. Meanwhile, humans will focus on more interesting and complex activities and will develop skills with high added value such as management or design of computer systems. “It will create a need for certain types of skills and make others disappear,” explains Simon Savard, senior economist at the ‘Institut du Québec’
In the field of health, hard hit by the shortage of manpower, solutions exist, such as machines to process complex prescriptions and reduce errors in pharmacies. Sectors such as food distribution would also benefit from the automation of some hard-to-fill jobs, often at minimum wage. For example, supermarket chains still have few self-service checkouts in their branches.
Currently, in Quebec, approximately 250,000 vacant positions are posted by companies while 60% of them require a high school diploma or less. “There is a disconnect between the needs of businesses and the skills of people arriving on, or already on, the job market,” says Simon Savard. “A large majority of young people have either a college diploma or a university degree.”
So if automation is part of the solution to the labour shortage, it must for one thing be combined with increased training for the acquisition of new skills and the adoption of new technologies in companies.