Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of automation in the service industry is on the rise. As many Americans have been slow returning to work during the pandemic, for a number of reasons, companies are facing an extreme worker shortage. As a result, more companies are beginning to automate service jobs, particularly in food service, retail, and manufacturing, in an attempt to resolve the current shortage and higher labor costs. The pandemic accelerated improvements in robot technology, as well as the adoption of robotics by more companies, as they can’t catch or spread disease, such as Covid-19, or need unexpected time off.
Ideally, this new use of automation in the service industry will create new jobs by redistributing existing employees to new and better positions, with the proper training. However, many worry it could be wiping out less skilled jobs that lower income workers could be depending on. The World Economic Forum conducted a survey that found 43% of companies plan to reduce their workforce, or supplement their worker shortage, with the new technology. In addition, from the second quarter of 2020, business investments in equipment have grown by 26%.
Experts predict the fastest growth will be in roving machines, which are used to clean floors in hospitals, supermarkets, and warehouses, along with the automation of other janitorial positions. They also expect an increase in robotics that will provide information to customers while shopping, or that will deliver room service in a hotel or hospital. Warehouses are using robots along assembly lines and airports have been using robots for disinfection of facilities. A more visible adoption of automation has been seen in restaurants, assisting with food preparation and plating.
Although restaurants aren’t just automating food preparation, the use of new software and AI -powered services are rising as well, from drive-through speakers to inventory tracking. Many restaurants have also developed online ordering and payment systems that customers can use on their phones, eliminating the need for wait staff. Food runners then bring orders to the table and customers pay over the phone when they’re finished.
Overall, only time will tell if this rise in automation in the service industry is helpful to the economy or instead creating a lack of jobs. As customer spending is returning, but also consistently increasing, businesses need a solution in order to keep up, and automation may be just that.