Tradie jobs are safe from the AI-pocalypse (for now)

Jarrod Brown
By Jarrod Brown
6 Min Read

Aussie tradies are confident that artificial intelligence (AI) won’t be able to replace them on the tools, but are they right not to be worried?

A recent survey commissioned by global job site Indeed asked workers from all sectors of the Aussie job force how they felt about rapidly evolving AI impacting thousands of businesses over the next five years.

But unlike other countries that reportedly fear the worst from the loading AI boom, most Aussies were surprisingly confident in their ability to take the technological takeover in their stride.

The results showed an overwhelming 91 per cent of workers were “confident” they could adapt to automation, with the majority actually feeling “capable”, “prepared” and “excited” about the prospect.

Of those, the loudest voices were the tradies that make up the blue-collar backbone of the construction industry, with 44 per cent believing they would be completely unaffected by AI on the tools.

Sally McKibbin, Career Expert at Indeed said Aussie workers were showing a “remarkable” confidence.

“Australians are known for their can-do attitude and this rings true in their arms-wide-open approach to using AI in the workplace,” added McKibbin.

Can’t beat a good tradie?

But tradies do have a point. With the emergence of AI tools mainly taking aim at repetitive tasks like admin logging and data tracking, there doesn’t seem to be a good replacement for a tradie behind the tools – yet.

Professions such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and other skilled trade workers undoubtedly need manual dexterity, problem-solving skills, and hands-on expertise that infant AI programs and clunky robotics just aren’t able to replicate. 

And Aussies seem to agree. When it comes to decision-making, critical thinking, and customer service (all of which are staples of the typical tradie business), respondents agreed that humans could outperform the artificial intelligence almost every time. 

But that doesn’t mean robotics and AI aren’t gunning for trade jobs down the track. 

In an interview with radio station 4BC last month technologist and Managing Director of Leap Consulting Zaun Bhana warned the industry that robots resembling the iconic C3PO star wars character could be coming to worksites sooner than you think. 

“We’re looking at anything in the construction industry, where we are typically looking at repetitive heavy workloads, sometimes unsafe work, that’s highly manual,” he said. 

“We’re used to robots only being in factories. Now we’re talking about a fleet of C3POs that are able to come out and work underneath a tradesperson and assist them, in the same way that we’ve had apprentices learning and watching tradespeople do their tasks.

“We’re now getting to the point where these robots are actually capable enough of doing these jobs, but more importantly, learning new jobs while they’re on site.

“So indoors or outdoors, these are robots that could start to take the roles of factory worker, construction worker, a tradesperson to help solve the shortage.”

While you might think these humanoid robo-apprentices might be years away from being released, think again. According to Bhana, tradies and factory workers can expect to see them hit job sites as early as this year. 

“BMW has already signed up to have these robots in their own factories in areas where they want to provide extra labour that they can’t get currently in their own workforce,” he added. 

With the technologist going on to compare the potential impact on tradies to the domination of autonomous cars taking jobs away from Taxi and Uber, it’s clear a career in construction might not be as safe as we once thought. 

According to predictions from AI integration platform ServiceNow, 1.3 million full-time jobs – or 9.9 per cent of Australia’s working population – will be automated in the next four years across all industries as AI hits the mainstream.

However, Bhana did admit that the technology was still a long way from replacing skilled tradies altogether, claiming the technology currently only had the intelligence of an average household cat.

“Tradespeople are safe. You can still increase your hourly rate while the work is short. But there is going to come a time where the right tradies will be looking at the right technology, and robots will be in that mix,” he said.

“I think tradespeople who take advantage of this opportunity, and as a country if australia takes advantage of it, we actually can set ourselves up to lead in an area that doesn’t involve just digging things up out of the ground.”

“We don’t have to think too far ahead to see, well why couldn’t we have tradespeople running fleets of these robots?”

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.