PwC study: potentially almost thirty percent fewer vacancies

Use of service robots can reduce shortages in labour market

Use of service robots can reduce shortages in labour market
  • Issue
  • April 03, 2023

In important sectors, the number of vacancies can potentially be reduced by almost thirty percent through the use of automation, including robots. This is a result of the PwC study Robots@Work. The potential of service robots to reduce labor shortages in the Netherlands.

The study gives an answer to the question of whether the deployment of automation, and particularly service robots, can alleviate labour shortages. Service robots are robots or equipment that perform tasks outside the industrial environment, interacting with people in their daily or work life.

The potential differs per sector

The potential labour-saving effect of automation varies by industry. While in transportation and warehousing more automation could reduce the number of vacancies by more than fifty percent, in education it is less than one in ten jobs, because the nature of the work allows only limited automation. The same is true of the health and welfare sector: the proportion of jobs that could potentially be automated there is relatively low. But because the number of vacancies in this sector is expected to remain very high, automation does contribute greatly to an absolute reduction in those vacancies.

In order to be able to build up on previous research and to be aligned with it, we use automation for our estimates. Automation is broader than use of robots, as it also includes the use of software and the potential impact of industrial robots.

Fear of robots proved unfounded

According to labour market specialist Bastiaan Starink of PwC, the use of robots and other technology is one of the ways to solve the labour market problem. 'In practice, there is no single solution. We must also keep looking at how we can persuade people who are currently not working or working little to work more hours. As a society, we need to look in all directions for creative solutions. And technology is certainly one of them.'

What he believes helps with this is a much more positive tone about robots than in the past. 'For a very long time, society talked about robots as a threat, in terms like "robots are stealing our jobs." However, labour markets in Europe are now so tight that people are now looking at them in a much more positive light. After all, robots are nothing more than a helper for humans.'

PwC chief economist Jan Willem Velthuijsen adds, ‘We have found that the initial fears about technology replacing human work are not well-founded. We are currently less afraid of the dangers, and see more good examples of how it can work very well.’

However, deployment of service robots is still limited

The study speaks about the potential opportunities of service robot deployment, as it is in the service sector that more vacancies will need to be filled in the Netherlands in the coming years. The deployment of service robots lags far behind the deployment of industrial robots. In relation to other EU countries, adoption of robots in the Netherlands is just average. 

An explanation for this is not easy to find, precisely because other research shows that in the Netherlands the degree of acceptance of technology is relatively high and labour relatively expensive. Moreover, there is a lot of technological knowledge in the Netherlands.

‘The Netherlands is very well positioned to build a wonderful service robot-sector industry', says Jan Willem Velthuijsen. 'There are several research centres - especially universities - that are already developing and testing this technology. Robots, or parts of them, are developed and made in the Netherlands, but not brought to the Dutch market.'

Costs fall, technology develops further

What could stimulate the deployment of service robots is the ongoing technological development, for example in the field of artificial intelligence and 5G, but also the falling costs of deploying robots. In addition, to further unlock the potential of service robots, more investments are needed.

Moreover, work is needed to improve the interoperability of robots: robots of different brands and makers must be able to communicate with each other in order to deploy them on a much larger scale. A regulatory framework is also needed, including for liabilities, such as when a robot performs tasks independently and makes mistakes.

Start experimenting with service robots

Bastiaan Starink thinks the use of robots can also be stimulated by campaigning, education and sharing best practices. 'Even though there is more positive talk about robots, in a lot of organisations there will also be resistance. Not everywhere the level of acceptance is high.

‘I see here a task for industry associations, for example. And I would say to everyone: start experimenting, set up a pilot. Experience what these robots can and do. You don’t  need to be a technology company to get started with this.'

Jan Willem Velthuijsen: 'Investigate how humans can accept, trust, and embrace machines. There is a lot of new, fascinating research on the psychology of human-machine interaction.'

Ultimately, the deployment of service robots means a digital transformation

A pilot is relatively simple, says Bastiaan Starink, but if an organisation decides to deploy service robots on a structural basis, there are some issues involved. 'When robots take over tasks from your employees, it means that human work changes. That often requires further training.

‘You have to determine what will and will not be done by people, you have to make rules about that, you have to make sure that everything is regulated in the field of privacy and data processing. In that case, the use of technology must be part of your business operations, your policy and your processes. In other words, that means transforming.’

Would you like to know more about the influence of service robots on the labour market?

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Contact us

Bastiaan Starink

Bastiaan Starink

Partner, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)65 375 58 28

Jan Willem Velthuijsen

Jan Willem Velthuijsen

Chief Economist, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)62 248 32 93

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