Will It Replace Service Jobs In S’pore?

We already have ATMs in Singapore, although you still need cashiers to manage them. However, stores may no longer need to employ workers to serve customers.

Universities tend to be used as testing grounds for new technological innovations – think QR code payments and “cashless campus initiatives” before they roll out across the island.

So when automated stores began to appear across Singapore, it marked the start of a trend that could become the norm for retail. As for the service sector, we already have robot chefs and robot cleaners in Singapore.

The Covid-19 pandemic is only catalyzing this automation, which is expected to accelerate. It is increasingly being adopted by businesses across the board, according to an APEC report released in June.

Industrial robots have grown from one million to over three million units from 2015 to 2020. Low-skilled workers will be the most affected, according to VoxEU research, as robots are better at increasing productivity in these industries.

Sectors such as service and catering are particularly at risk as automation replicates and streamlines tasks. In fact, layoffs from low-skilled jobs are already becoming a reality in Singapore.

Automated convenience

Three Singaporean brands, October, OMO Store and Pick & Go, launched automated convenience stores at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) in late 2019.

Image Credit: NUS UCI

These stores rely on biometric identification, radio frequency identification and artificial intelligence systems to regulate and track the movements of shoppers and items.

In the October store in NUS College Town, you can link your DBS Paylah account to the store entrance as a one-time setup and then scan your palm print to enter the store.

After you select an item and bring it to the checkout, October detects and records the items you purchase, then automatically deducts your Paylah before you are allowed to leave.

It is a waterproof and transparent system. It also reduces the need for any kind of human intervention, aside from the recurring need to restock shelves.

Robot Baristas

Convenience stores aren’t the only businesses to be automated. Cafes are also joining the trend.

By now, you may have heard of how the KopiMatic, an automatic kopi brewing machine, could potentially take over from the hawkers.

Even baristas are being replaced by robots.

At Crown Coffee, the coffee brewing process has been replaced by automation – it has a robotic arm called “Ella” that brews your coffee for you.

Crown coffee robot
Image Credit: Nation Thailand

The entire process of ordering a freshly brewed Americano happens digitally: from ordering a mug on their mobile app or in-store, to waiting for Ella to prepare and serve you the mug.

According to Keith Tan, the founder of Crown Coffee, Ella is capable of making over 100 combinations of coffee, tea, and even cocktails. It can even predict and place your usual order by tracking your preferences via facial recognition.

His coffee is also competitively priced, costing just S $ 3.50 for an espresso.

Why pay a salary when you can automate?

Automated retail services are not yet a widespread phenomenon. Currently, it is limited to niche stores and seems to be limited to a test bed phase.

However, it’s much cheaper and more reliable to invest in technology that can run 24/7 without having to deal with sick days and days off.

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a service job like a cashier, or a more skilled job like a barista, costs around $ 1,500 to $ 2,000 per month.

That’s over S $ 20,000 a year for an eight- to nine-hour full-time shift, with no reduction in supplements for overtime or days off.

In contrast, automated technology is able to mimic the same functions humans perform at a 24-hour one-time investment, avoiding machine failures and scheduled upgrades.

Keith estimated that Ella could sell between S $ 150,000 and S $ 200,000 in an interview.

The “robotic revolution” is well underway

From AI chat robots to drone servers, the technological revolution has gradually reduced the need for human industry.

cashier work cleaning
Image Credit: Gov.SG

The advent of the “robotic revolution” becomes much more real when you see your coffee being brewed by a mechanical arm and you buy instant noodles from an unmanned store.

In countries like Singapore, automation is accelerating at a much faster rate due to the high cost of labor and labor shortages. Experts warn that more than 20 million manufacturing jobs will be lost to robots by 2030.

Since the invention of the assembly line by Henry Ford, the second era of industrialization seems to be spreading rapidly across the world in the form of automated systems.

Coupled with the catalytic effects of Covid-19, it’s also much safer to automate interactions that typically require human-to-human contact to prevent the spread of the virus.

Singapore Smart Nation policy actively integrates technology into our daily lives, but what will happen to those left behind?

Featured Image Credit: Enterprise SG / The Spoon Tech

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Jothi Venkat

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