Are waste management jobs at threat from automation?

As a new report warns that that waste, water and sewage management teams could be replaced by automated technology by 2030, a UK-based company has agreed to supply fuel cells for drones used for supply chain inventory tracking in the logistics sector.

A new report, released today (24 March) from PwC, has revealed that up to 30% of exiting UK jobs could be automated by 2030. Sectors most likely to undergo this transformation are waste management, manufacturing and transportation, all of which have a higher than 45% chance of having roles automated.

However, this transition is likely to stimulate further job growth in new digital sectors of the economy, rather than increase unemployment. The report states that jobs in these sectors won’t become obsolete, but rather change to support the implementation of new technologies.

PwC is quick to highlight that, in practice, not all of the sectoral jobs highlighted are likely to be automated due to economic, legal and regulatory factors. Nonetheless, the report calls on the UK Government to stimulate human capital in these areas by enhancing education.

“Government needs to respond by reshaping education and vocational training to help workers adapt to this fast-evolving technological world,” the report states. “Measures to redistribute income should also be considered, but need careful design to avoid adverse incentive effects.”

The growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), is likely to streamline approaches to waste management, which faces a 62% chance of becoming automated as these technologies develop.

Companies are already turning to enhanced data management to gain a greater understanding of their waste streams, and the report predicts a rise in robotics to actually sort and handle these areas.

PwC’s own concentration on waste is a key pillar for its Going Circular initiative, which has actually used staff engagement rather than automation to embed closed-loop systems within the company and its suppliers.

Recently, PwC’s sustainability and climate change partner Celine Herweijer explored how green innovations and technological breakthroughs, such as AI, IoT and 3D printing, will have a huge impact on business sustainability.

Droning on

One of the innovations listed by Herweijer was drones – air or water-based devices and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) – and how they would drastically change how businesses interact with logistics.

Companies such as Amazon are already exploring the potential of drones, and now UK-based Intelligent Energy will supply air-cooled fuel cell systems for yard management firm PINC and its UAVs.

PINC uses UAVs to identify and track hard-to-reach inventory areas and assets across the global supply chains of the world’s biggest manufactures and retailers including Kimberly-Clark and Kraft Heinz.

Intelligent Energy will provide fuel cell systems to equip the UAV drones with longer flight times, faster refuel capabilities and flexibility for varying payloads, all highlighted as key developmental requirements by PINC.

Intelligent Energy’s senior vice president Julian Hughes said: “I am delighted to announce the first sales of our fuel cell systems for UAV application. PINC is leading the way with the use of hydrogen fuel cell UAVs in the supply chain and we are certain they will be impressed with the benefits our fuel cells will offer over conventional batteries. We look forward to a long relationship with them.”

It is not difficult to understand why drones have so quickly swarmed into the mainstream – they’re lightweight, low-cost, require little preparation or infrastructure, and, from an environmental perspective, require little amounts of fuel.

The approval from the Government to lift strict flying restrictions for unmanned delivery aircraft was another major turning point which has seen these vehicles take flight commercially. For more insight on how drones can help with business sustainability, read edie’s round-up here.

Matt Mace

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