From lawyers to lorry drivers, many occupations face a mounting (and possibly irresistible) threat from robots and artificial intelligence. Given the fact we have an ageing population with growing care needs, social care is another area where analysts suggest that robots could have a role to play.
Certainly, robotics and technology have the potential to improve the lives of older people and could help many stay in their own homes for longer. But robots also have limitations that should make their role complementary to, rather than a replacement for, human care.
Interestingly, analysing why robots can never replace human carers points the way to a more effective recruitment strategy that care providers can use in the here and now.
The unique characteristics that make a star employee in a care organisation embody all the qualities that a robot can never replace. Good care isn’t a set of instructions and tasks to be followed, it is a state of mind, a personality and, above all, a very human experience.
You cannot teach a computer empathy or replicate the experiences that make each one of us what we are. Care users will not relate to a machine in the way they do to a person. They probably won’t like the feeling of being constantly monitored, as many technology based care models presume. And they won’t be helped by anything that seems to take the control of their lives out of their hands.
And we should never underestimate the therapeutic effects of human interaction. Sometimes it’s important just to know that somebody, another human, actually cares.
So, while we wait for the technology we should focus on, and celebrate, the qualities that make a good care worker: empathy, an engaging personality, caring, listening, communicating. These are the skills and qualities we should be recruiting for.
The technical skills and knowledge can be learned, rather like a computer or robot can be programmed. The human qualities are what make good care workers such a precious resource, for care providers, service users and society.