We published our report Automation Can Solve The Service Worker Shortage in May 2022. This research defined 11 categories of automation that will most effect frontline service workers. We then ranked the categories based on likely adoption and how ready the required technology is. Client readership was strong, but they asked that we dig a bit deeper, and that’s what we hope to do with our forthcoming series. It takes each automation category one at a time and dives into the top use cases, challenges, successes, and best practice guidance.

The pandemic highlighted our dependence on these frontline service workers. They are not physical workers in cubicles or working at home in a comfortable shirt; more likely, they have old sneakers, faded blue jeans, a uniform, or poorly fitting scrubs. They might be a health services worker such as a nursing aide, orderly, or attendant; a store clerk; or the driver cruising down your street to deliver a package. They prepare food and beverages for us and wait on our tables. They clean the buildings and cut our lawns where we live and work. They are hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists who provide personal services. And we need millions more of them.

We believe automation can make their jobs better and unleash productivity that allows employers to pay living wages and benefits. The question we try to answer is how and when.

The first automation area we explore in the series is the surveillance, security, and incident robotics category. This affects security guards, for example, who patrol and protect business and personal property against theft, vandalism, and other illegal acts. This job category employs more than 1 million US workers who earn between $16,000 and $24,000 a year. The turnover rate is 130% a year, one of the highest. Armed guards, bank guards, bodyguards, mall security staff, bouncers, security officers, and transportation security screeners, guarding that exit in an airport, fall into this category.

Robots are coming for these jobs. Our report will make a call on how they will do. A few things are already clear: 1) the robots will have solid economics; 2) humans will remain “in the loop” but walk around less with a lot more screen time; and 3) the robots will do a lot more things than the human security guard, like monitor air quality and COVID disinfection.

A deep look at these service jobs is enlightening. For one, we need to stop looking down on those that work with their hands or in service occupations. Many of us with advanced education may struggle to turn on the outside grill or assemble a piece of furniture and couldn’t begin to operate a nail gun, yet are quick to dismiss the service worker’s talent as repetitive, low skilled, and an easy target for automation. Many of these jobs require judgement, physical agility, experience, emotional fortitude, and attention to detail. In fact, referring to the work category as “low skilled” is condescending and, for many service jobs, incorrect. We should stop using it. In fact, your plumber likely makes a lot more money than you do!

To learn more about Forrester’s service worker automation research, reach out to Craig Le Clair (cleclair@forrester.com) and Renee Taylor (retaylor@forrester.com). If you are interested in participating in this research, let us know! Stay tuned for our upcoming report, “The Winner’s Circle: Security And Surveillance Automation For Frontline Service Workers.”