I keep reading that automation is going to have a serious impact on the job market and I don’t doubt that it will. Yet there are a number of questions that continue to plague me about this topic that rarely seem to be discussed.
Namely, when will we be able to see this change happen and which sectors will be the most effected?
I realize that any timeline proposed is merely speculation or at most a well-educated prediction. However I don’t think it is too soon to at least steer the conversation away from the more abstract societal impact and bring it back down to the individual level.
The World Bank recently released a statement claiming that to meet the rising population, we will need to create over 600 million jobs worldwide. That is a lot of jobs my friends. This got me thinking, even if we don’t reach this number, where will the majority of these jobs appear?
Statistics have also been floating around since last year that 47% of jobs will be taken out of the market over the next 20 years. TechnologyReview states that:
“The authors believe this takeover will happen in two stages. First, computers will start replacing people in especially vulnerable fields like transportation/logistics, production labor, and administrative support. Jobs in services, sales, and construction may also be lost in this first stage. Then, the rate of replacement will slow down due to bottlenecks in harder-to-automate fields such as engineering. This “technological plateau” will be followed by a second wave of computerization, dependent upon the development of good artificial intelligence. This could next put jobs in management, science and engineering, and the arts at risk.”
Industries at Risk
Let’s just focus on the first stage for now. Vulnerable jobs include a lot of minimum wage positions such as all of the folks working in fast food joints, large department stores, retail outlets, telemarketers, secretaries and other office administration.
However these vulnerable positions also extend to taxi drivers, truck drivers, airplane pilots, and other jobs that can be handled by self-driving vehicles. For a full list of the top 20 most at risk and least at risk occupations, read this Forbes article.
What are people in these positions to do if they are worried about their careers? The most popular response is to get a job doing something that is less likely to get automated in the near future. This means creating more creative and social type positions and I’m not sure that the majority of people who will need to be switching careers will have the right skillsets to pull this off.
Evolution of the Education System
I think this is something that our education system needs to work into the curriculum or at least develop further. The competition for these sorts of jobs will increase more and more as industries begin to automate certain processes and people will need to have exceptional skills to help them stand out among the crowd of other job hunting minimum wage workers. We need to start preparing the kids who are still in school for the way that the job market will look by the time they get out or even 5 years after they graduate.
An article by the The Economist phrases the situation well:
“The main way in which governments can help their people through this dislocation is through education systems. One of the reasons for the improvement in workers’ fortunes in the latter part of the Industrial Revolution was because schools were built to educate them—a dramatic change at the time. Now those schools themselves need to be changed, to foster the creativity that humans will need to set them apart from computers. There should be less rote-learning and more critical thinking.”
As soon as a company like McDonalds can implement an automated system to make at least 50% of the food with minimal employee involvement there will be a rush by all of their competitors to do the same. Before long half of all fast food employees will be without a job. It’ll start with one location, then a chain of locations, and then the other companies in the specific industry will follow suit.
The same thing will happen with coffee shops, grocery stores, and a whole host of other businesses. Children born in the coming years will have an entirely different experience when they go to find their first job than their parents did. The next couple decades are going to be extremely transformative for the modern workplace and will only continue to get more exciting as time goes on.
The Future of the Economy/Job Market
There are many theories concerning what will happen once we move beyond our current system. When there is no longer a physical need for people to be working 40 hour work weeks. However that is the topic for another post: What is a Post-Scarcity Economy? (coming soon)
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