17 November 2017

Don’t get replaced by a robot pest controller!

Technology feature | PPC89 November 2017

Don’t get replaced by a by a robot pest controller

We’ve been talking about new technology in pest management lots over the last few issues. BPCA Technical Manager,  Dee Ward-Thompson investigates how we best protect our profession with the impending age of automation on the horizon.

What do telemarketers, loan officers, football referees, restaurant cooks, nuclear power reactor operators and pest control technicians all have in common? Nobody wants them to talk work at the dinner table? No. It’s that the robots want their jobs.

No, we’re not talking about the plot for the next Terminator film – this is the grand conclusion of the digital age.

The most automatable jobs chance

Back in 2013, two clever people from Oxford wrote a paper that stated computer programmes or robots would steal about 50% of all jobs. With the staggering progressions in computing, that figure is no doubt conservatively low.

So that’s about half the jobs in the world gone in the name of progress. And why not? After all, robots are more accurate than people, they don’t take breaks, and they always follow their programming within the letter of the law (for now at least, gulp).

How automatable is pest management?

The 2013 paper “The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?” lists over 700 jobs.

It tries to work out how likely is it that a particular profession is going to be handed over to C-3PO or not.

According to the study, pest control technicians have about a 66% chance of being automated.

That means you’re doing better than library assistants, office clerks, rock splitters, post office clerks and even models – there’s a 95% chance of those roles being lost to the age of automation.

On the other hand, chiropractors, interior designers, aerospace engineers, therapists, dentists, and vicars are all less than 1% likely to be automated.

 The least automatable jobs

What makes us automatable?

A nifty website replacedbyrobot.info details the automatable parts of a pest technician’s typical work. It highlights the following tasks as easy prey for machines:

  • Spray or dust chemical solutions, powders, or gases into rooms, onto clothing, furnishings, or wood, or over marshlands, ditches, or catch basins
  • Recommend treatment and prevention methods for pest problems to clients
  • Study preliminary reports or diagrams of infested area and determine treatment type required to eliminate and prevent recurrence of infestation
  • Inspect premises to identify infestation source and extent of damage to property, wall, or roof porosity and access to infested locations
  • Record work activities performed
  • Direct or assist other workers in treatment or extermination processes to eliminate or control rodents or insects.

Rage against the machine

So, should we all just quit and retrain as art therapists, right? Probably not. I say we fight the system. The trick is to act like a human.

Don’t reduce yourself to being just a bait box checker

Savvas Othon mentioned this in his guest article in PPC87, but I think it’s worth repeating. Technicians do not visit sites to merely check bait boxes.

Robots are programmed to follow a preset list of instructions – you’re not. I’ve never met an intuitive robot. Approach your work with the attitude of a professional. Make recommendations about prevention. Use your experience and training to prevent an infestation before they even occur.

Service with a smile

Add the personal touch to your daily routine. Making recommendations as a friendly, qualified, expert focusing on customer service rather than merely controlling a pest problem, will mean that a client will always choose you over a heartless machine. Showing the customer where and what the recommendations exactly are not only improves relationships but improves the likelihood that they will be done correctly.

Get to know the clients business, understanding how their processes work shows you care.

Be a critical and creative thinker

A computer program literally thinks inside the box. Technology is only as good as it’s programming while you have the potential to learn from your experiences and make educated, logical leaps. Read up on new products and non-toxic controls that can enhance your service, look for new ways to enhance the service that you provide. Tell the client about the new things you are trying and why.

Look your clients in the eye – tell them you understand that this can be distressing

Be understanding

Robots can’t empathise with a client.

Look your clients in the eye – tell them you understand that this can be distressing. Establish trust and build a rapport. Make a person feel seen and heard.

Educate your clients, help them understand more about the pest management programme on their site, make them feel part of it – not an outsider.

Imagine a robot saying “I’m sorry for your trouble, I can imagine this must be very upsetting.” It just wouldn’t have the same clout coming from a Dalek.

Become an influencer

Sure, it’s one thing to make a name for yourself internally, but when you make your mark externally, you bolster your presence and reduce your automatability.

You are the expert, talk about your successes with your peers, share ideas and best practice, pest control is a passionate industry so show your passion.

Network, talk at events, write articles, opinion pieces, blogs. Get involved in your trade association. We’ve never had a robot on a committee yet.

Be human

We are sometimes at fault for being automated – technology helps us but can also be our worse enemy. Make sure every site is treated differently, that it's tailored to the clients' needs, add your personal touch, make them value you as the technician, not the systems that are behind you.

Dee unit-3000


When all’s said and done, the robot rebellion isn’t going to take over pest management tomorrow.

Fully automated pest management solutions are a way off for now. Search YouTube for “robots falling over” and you’ll be suitably reassured. Siri still barely understands “call Mum”, never mind “tell me the source of this mouse infestation.”

True automation and humanoid robots are still mostly science fiction, but it’s worth keeping in mind that nobody is irreplaceable.

That doesn’t mean we should hide from technology – if anything it suggests that we should embrace it. It’ll be those who reject the technology of tomorrow that will fall behind the curve.

Take an interest in what’s coming out from the manufacturing and distributors.

Even if you’re not the decision maker in your company, knowing what’s out there will keep you ahead.

And above everything else – stay human, people!

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Technical Manager

16 November 2017  |  PPC89

Source: PPC89