Robots are coming to Slovak industry

There are already more than 1 million robots registered throughout the world.

Robots assemble vehicles in the carmaker Kia Slovakia.Robots assemble vehicles in the carmaker Kia Slovakia. (Source: Sme)

The fourth industrial revolution, now evolving around the world, brings not only new technological discoveries and inventions but also changes in human society. One of those changes culminates in crowding out manpower from traditional, manual work to knowledge-oriented jobs.

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By now, automation and robotisation of less-qualified and assembly activities have begun to gather a significant share in the global labour market. Though countries like India, China, Africa or even central European countries may continue to absorb more jobs from companies coming from the west, experts consider robots as future job takers.

“The world production process has already integrated robots and the tendency is to automatise more,” Mariana Turanová, managing partner at the TARGET Executive Search headhunting company, told The Slovak Spectator.

So far small changes

The biggest Slovak job-search portal Profesia.sk, however, has not registered changes in replacing people with robots in Slovakia but rather the continuing growth of demand in all sectors. Investments in robotics concern particularly the automotive and electronics industries where turn-out, or application of robots, is not so rapid, said Martin Menšík of Profesia.sk.

“Each position is more likely to move to other professions, such as toolmaker, setter, programmer or mechatronic,” Menšík told The Slovak Spectator.

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Slovakia currently protects itself via low labour costs, however, in the near future robots may embrace jobs in every country with a high degree of assembly operations, according to Martin Malo, CEO of the Slovak and Czech divisions of Trenkwalder recruitment agency, listing as in danger all the countries of the Visegrad Group (V4), Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia.

Mainly automotive

The automation would liquidate repetitive professions in Slovakia such as salespeople, auxiliary construction workers, drivers, and jobs in the automotive industry. While the employment in automotive is insignificant, the sector is important for production and export, as it forms 1-2 percent of world car production, according to Michal Páleník of the non-governmental Employment Institute.

“Though the sector registered the replacement of ‘dirty’ positions like handling machines, the number of ‘clean’ positions is significantly lower,” Páleník told The Slovak Spectator.

Currently, the Slovak economy consists of industry sectors with more than 70 percent of industry robot installations in the world, according to a study by the Educational Policy Institute (IEP) which runs under the Education Ministry.

Other jobs at risk

Though the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) foresees extinction of 11 percent and changes to 35 percent of jobs in Slovakia over the next 10-20 years, Turanová stressed the threat mainly in service jobs like elderly personal care and catering, in genomics like satellite navigated plant fertilisation and watering, in cyber security, and the big data industry.

In addition, automation may replace jobs at filling stations, hotel reception and jobs in product completion and quality control, according to Malo.

While Malo pointed to possibly unaffected jobs with higher added value and development, Turanová also sees the human factor as essential in headhunting where many companies already use recruitment software and conduct interviews via e-tools. Every hiring manager has got a resume that is technically precise and matched to the requirements, she said.

“However, once they begin to talk with the candidate, they find him unsuitable,” Turanová said.

Pink-collared future

Manual and less-qualified jobs that robots most endanger usually include male-dominated professions.

The trend of automation can, therefore, lead to a crowding out of men to the so-called pink-collared professions including those jobs in health-care, services, education and lower-paid positions in companies and offices such as assistants, receptionists and secretaries.

The transfer of men to more emotive, but less paid jobs has become the world trend, however, Slovak recruitment agencies have so far not recorded a significant shift in Slovakia, the Denník N daily reported.

Years of Robots

The Employment Institute expects that the trend will continue in the coming years, however, not in the form of jumps which would destroy entire professions. In public administration, robots could allow civil servants more time to do useful things, not just to shovel papers with a fork from pile to pile, said Páleník.

The future labour market should show the biggest interest in the skills that the technologies cannot yet replace, including creativity, analytical and social skills, according to Dávid Martinák of IEP. These are mainly managers, specialists and educational and professional staff in the education sector.

Menšík sees a future full of new jobs, for example, in the health-care field, that society does not yet know of. More automation may lead to exchange of work that people do not like for work in which they would find greater fulfilment, Menšík said.

Lifelong education

New technologies are becoming more demanding on knowledge, hence the best prevention against ejection from the labour market is higher education and qualification, according to experts. The whole education system should adapt the automation trend, said Páleník.

For a better educational level in the society, Páleník proposes standards like typewriting as a mandatory subject at the primary education level, less emphasis on formal education and, on the contrary, lifelong education.

“It is unsustainable to make people think that school leaving examination means the end of their study, on the contrary it means the beginning,” Páleník said.

Turanová suggests learning with technological devices, connection to practice and technical studies. Though no one can replace teachers, actors and masseurs quickly, people may study humanities and social sciences in combination with other disciplines which reflect the pulse of time.

Next steps

People should monitor the needs of the labour market and development and trends in their professions. If people see the demand for the knowledge of some programming language or technology, they can improve their knowledge through education, according to Menšík.

“People should get rid of the fear of robotisation and take it as an aid which unburdens them from repetitive and physically demanding work,” Menšík said.

Companies must resolve the problem of demographics, hence how to teach the generation over age 45 to work with automatised operation, Menšík said.

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