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The impact of AI on jobs in the retail motor sector

Jakkie Olivier, CEO of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI)

The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is gaining traction in all sectors. Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and automation are being applied to create ingenious innovations – advancements aimed at making life easier, improving productivity and speeding up the evolution of industries.

McKinsey Digital reports that most aspects of car manufacturing will transform with AI enabling autonomous vehicles to become mainstream. The transformation is expected to play out within the next two decades. AI technologies are already able to automate at least 30% of activities in about 60% of occupations in the USA and Germany.

According to the report key areas where AI would revolutionise the car manufacturing process include minimising production line failure; ensuring more productive employees with supported robotic collaboration; creating AI quality control  that could be 90% more accurate; ensuring more timely measurement of research and development progress; and adding business support functions like an IT service desk that can be automated to about 90%.

But will these innovations have a negative impact on job security in the car manufacturing and retail industry? The answer probably lies with the champions of these industries – how they embrace the digital potential of the evolving sector, without abandoning their workforce. The retail motor environment will need to keep abreast of this fast-moving transformation. Especially around customer care and after-sales service, with appropriate support and car maintenance, against the backdrop of AI, robotics and automation interventions.

Jakkie Olivier, CEO of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), says, “A priority of the RMI is readying its members for the changes through awareness, education, and skills development.”

However, the retail motor sectors around the world, and in South Africa, cannot rely on educational or training sectors to provide technicians with the necessary futuristic skills. According to The World Economic Forum 65% of pupils presently entering primary school, will end up in a job that does not even exist yet.

To remain relevant, skills development programmes need to be stepped up. “The current workforce would need to become a new generation of coders and software engineers,” says Mark Dommisse, Chairman of the National Automobile Dealers’ Association (NADA). He recognises the inevitable transformation of internal combustion engines, making way for alternative power sources, “Today’s vehicles aren’t stand-alone entities but rather part of a network of navigation and shared information. We are moving to vehicles that will soon be interconnected, electronically controlled and fuelled by a variety of energy sources.”

This amplifies the need to evolve job requirements of motor technicians. It also provides some foreshadowing on how the retail landscape should prepare for the onset of increasing AI presence, including robotics and automation. In a white paper on Leadership in the 4IR, Dr. David Molapo and Linda Khumalo, consider careers in the digital technology industry. They categorise opportunities in the digital technology sector along people, product, process and financial aspects.

Motor technicians fit into the process aspect. The white paper rates this area as very technical. ‘Individuals wanting to work in the process departments must study Digital Technology at technical universities’, states the white paper. However, it points out, ‘there are very few tertiary institutes who specialise in Digital Technology as this is a new industrial sector and universities are starting to establish these departments’.

With academic institutions needing six months to two years for the development of a Bachelor’s degree course, the white paper suggests that industries will need to find training partners and encourage self-training by innovators in the areas of nanotechnology, AI and robotics. ‘The traditional academic institutions still follow the traditional research methodologies and the new Internet world is moving too fast,’ it states. Subsequently few academic institutions have the capability to respond fast enough.

“It is crucial for the motor retail industry to adapt within this changing factory and workshop environment. Even though fuel-powered cars will be operating in South Africa for many years to come,” says Olivier.

“While training and educational institutions catch up to the needs dictated by the 4IR, RMI is committed to invest in an upskill drive. This will ensure that members remain relevant in order to meet their customers’ needs and safeguard business sustainability.”