Automation is turning industries and sectors upside-down. It’s not the first-time technology is changing the workforce in a drastic way, and it won’t be the last time, either. In this column, we are continuing our overarching discussion about automation and reskilling by focusing on how automation is affecting the nature of work in sectors like hospitality and retail.
McKinsey Global Institute says between 75-375 million people may need to switch occupational categories by 2030. This is all due to the rapid adoption of automation. Looking at a couple of sectors reveals some interesting trends about what this might look like. In hotels, a customer’s first interaction—check in—could one day be with a robot instead of a human.
The check-in and checkout process really could use a bit of speeding up. There, is no question that most of us have experienced delays in hotel check ins and check out. And in fact, most of us can admit we get a bit tired of waiting in line at the checkout desk when we have a plane to catch.
There’s a Japanese hotel that already uses robots instead of front-desk staff to check guests in and out and to answer customer questions.
The Henn na Hotel in Nagasaki also uses robots in the cloakroom to automate luggage storage and retrieval. “Henn” in Japanese means “to change” and the hotel is branding itself as a sort of hotel of the future. It also leverages facial-recognition technology to give guests access to their rooms without having to carry around a hotel key. If you love tech, you can’t help but love the use of automation here.
Advances in AI (artificial intelligence) are also going to make concierge robots much more prominent across hospitality.
You may remember the Hilton Hotel chain piloted “Connie” the Watson-enabled robot concierge back in 2016. During the pilot, Connie learned how to interact with guests and respond to their questions intelligently.
For now, the value in this type of technology is in supporting staff and reducing employees work loads. But in the future, we’re going to see automation tech that’s reliable and “smart” enough to actually take over many hospitality jobs.
Last year at CES, LG introduced its line of CLOi robots designed for use at airports, hotels, and supermarkets. These concepts bots can do things like serving meals, snacks, and drinks, delivering luggage, and checking hotel guests in and out.
Another company that’s offering hospitality robots is Savioke. Savioke’s relay robots can operate elevators and navigate crowds, allowing them to deliver items to customers without taking a human away from his or her task at hand.
For instance, relay could bring fresh towels to a hotel guest or it could bring medication to a hospital room. This will free up workers’ time to do other tasks that require a little bit more human ingenuity than delivering items from one place to another.
In retail, automation is similarly going to lighten human workers’ loads while improving the customer experience. As a result, human workers are going to move or be moved to different areas of a business.
Consider the fast food market. Last summer, the Wall Street Journal profiled “Flippy” the burger-flipping robot at a California fast-food restaurant called Caliburger. Flippy flips burgers, and that’s it. Because flippy flips burgers all day long, Caliburger employees don’t need to flip burgers. They can take orders, package orders, and get orders to customers.
They can clean up, refill condiment bins and napkin holders, and be around to answer guest questions about the menu. This is how one company has automated operations in fast food, but many others are looking to automate the ordering process, and this has caused a bit of stir.
McDonald’s, KFC, Wendy’s, Panera Bread, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jack in the Box, and many others are either already deploying or are planning to deploy self-service kiosks in their restaurants.
Several of these companies started their automation journeys last year, which, not very coincidentally, saw an increase in the minimum wage in several states.
Basically, these fast-food chain CEOs are saying that as labor costs are going up, customers expect their orders to be right every time, and automation is the way to serve customers what they want going forward.
What’s tricky is there is a whole lot of people who work in these restaurants in entry-level positions. The NRA (National Restaurant Assn.) says 10% of the American workforce works in fast food. What’s going to happen to all of these entry-level workers?
That’s the rub. While some restaurants are adamant that “robots” won’t replace cashiers, others practically boast about how much money they’re saving in wages.
The conversation we need to be having, whether it’s in hospitality, retail, or any other sector, is how can we prepare these workers for a new world—an automation age?
As we wrote about in this month’s feature on www.connectedworld.com, some jobs will go away as a result of automation, but new opportunities for work will open up.
We need to be talking about how we can reskill employees so they continue to add value to their employers and find fulfillment in their occupations.
We need to be talking about this on an industry level, but really as a society we need to be talking about it on a company and organizational level.
In a decade, fast-food restaurants are going to be very automated. Robots are going to take our orders, cook our food, and then deliver our food to us. Robots may even clean the physical restaurants. The same will go for other types of retail businesses, and automation will extend much further into hospitality as well. We will still see human faces, but these humans will be fulfilling much different roles than they are today.
How are you helping the employees you have? How are you preparing your businesses for the transition? Are you focusing on putting the tech first? Or are you building people first, based on the emerging tech? Remember what we have said before, it is all about the leadership.
And a great leader recognizes the importance of developing great people.
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