When Uber and Google threw their weight behind self-driving cars back in 2015, the word on everyone’s minds was ‘jobs’. (Other words included ‘Skynet’ and ‘science fiction’). Would autonomous vehicles (AVs) and the rise of robotics lead to higher unemployment? Was that technology even feasible at scale?
It wasn’t all cynicism though. A lot of experts predicted a growing demand for mechanical engineers and AI coders, and current trends seem to be bearing them out. Job site, Indeed, recently reported a 668% increase in autonomous vehicle-related jobs since 2015. Autonomous trains are currently shipping iron ore across the Pilbara. Robots are even protecting the Great Barrier Reef. According to the new Australian Robotics Roadmap, at least 21% of manufacturing plants will be smart factories by 2022, and industry demand for robotic engineers is only getting bigger.
The global market for robotics and autonomous systems will be worth $23 billion by 2025. The real question isn’t ‘Should I upskill in robotics and self-driving vehicles’. It’s ‘Where do I start?’
Here are 5 reasons you need to start thinking about a career in AVs and robotics:
Plenty of opportunities
In an increasingly volatile job market, it’s reassuring to know you’re studying a field that isn’t just in demand, it’s essential. Just look at mining. The skills gap in Australia for robotics, machine learning and autonomous vehicle production is so great that Rio Tinto is teaming up with the Western Australian government and vocational learning centres to develop new curriculums. Holden are already looking for 150 new mechanical engineers to spearhead their autonomous driving program. Toyota isn’t far behind, with plans to invest billions into new tech over the next decade. The wave is coming, there’s no doubt about that – this is your big chance to ride it.
The beauty of robotics and AVs is that they sit in the middle of an interdisciplinary Venn diagram: the place where coding, maths, artificial intelligence, mechatronics, engineering, nanotechnology and computer science overlap. Very few fields of study allow you to upskill in so many skill-sets and cutting-edge techniques. Why is that important? It increases employability, diversifies your resume and lets you pursue any of a dozen different career pathways, depending on what sparks your interest.
When people hear ‘robots’ and ‘self driving cars’ they picture a future where humans are chaperoned from A to B and pampered by robotic masseurs (perhaps that’s just us). But the truth is, there’s so much creative and philanthropic scope in this field. Robots and AVs are now being used to deliver blood transfusions to remote villages in Rwanda. Build prescription eyewear. Keep our oceans clean. Help those suffering from quadriplegia. The potential applications are endless, and it’ll be the engineers of tomorrow who bring those applications to life.
Low barrier to entry
Unlike many pathways, jobs in robotics and autonomous vehicle require no undergraduate qualification. In fact the career progression is pretty simple – you don’t even need to be a coding savant to get started. In the case of RMIT, you can begin with a Robotics Software Engineer nanodegree, run over four months. Or perhaps an Introduction To Self Driving Cars. These hands-on, vocational courses lead to more advanced training programs and help you develop some key industry contacts. Bayesian Thinking, C++, algorithmic thinking, object-oriented programming, linear algebra, Python's visualisation libraries – they’re technical, sure, but these introductory course don’t assume a lot of previous knowledge. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can upskill.
Future-proof your career
There’s an innate tension in robotics: on the one hand it you’ve got the McKinsey Global Institute claiming robot automation will take 800 million jobs by 2030. Which is certainly not a prediction to be taken lightly. But on the other hand, there’s never been more potential for engineers to future proof their career. The truth is, we don’t know exactly what the workforce will look like in 10, 20, 50 years’ time. But upskilling in emerging technologies is the surest way of future-proofing your career. In a time of flux, knowledge is always going to be valuable.