Throughout human history, we have been through eras of revolution by improved technology. As humankind evolved, from the hunter-gathering period, to Agricultural age, to Industrialisation, to the current Information Age, old jobs have continuously declined and new jobs being created. The evolution is caused by new technological advancements, and innovation. The headlines in recent years have been concerned with machines taking over jobs, leaving workers out of work. Is it really different this time?

Some groups of people seem to think so. This video below explains why automation is argued to be different from the past technological revolutions. Machines used to be good at mostly predictable and narrowly defined tasks. Now, they are able to learn how to do more complicated tasks and analysis with the data that we feed it.

 

An example given in the video above is how current technology innovations are not creating as many jobs as before, like the car industry. Companies are earning more revenue, without increasing the hours worked. That seems alarming for people as less jobs are created. It is a concern which may be connected to the rising numbers of graduates in unemployment. As a whole, there could be a mismatch of skills needed in the future workplace, and the skills that the labour force can provide. New jobs will inevitably be created, but it may not be enough to keep up with population growth, or match the pool of skill sets that the labour force can currently provide.

What is the impact of automation on jobs?

With the attention-grabbing headlines that robots may take over our jobs in the future, it is expected that fear is a common emotion when it comes to thinking about automation. However, fear can be productive if it drives people to do things differently in order not to get left behind.

McKinsey Global Institution published a report in 2017, evaluating what the future of work could look like in the era of automation. As expected, data showed that  tasks most susceptible to automation are those physical ones in predictable environments, or those involving collecting and processing data. Employment in these areas may not decline, but workers could be doing new tasks. Therefore, people should not be fearing the loss of jobs, but whether they would be ready to fill the new jobs when they come.

There are still things that machines cannot do such as having fine motor skills (sensory abilities and flexibilities of human hand); understanding natural language and human emotions. The machines are learning, but they cannot do them very well just yet. So, the demand for human labour will be for the skills that machines are not good at doing – social and emotional skills, creativity, and applying high levels of expertise.

How can humans remain relevant?

At the moment, we can safely establish that jobs for humans will not be eradicated completely. Some tasks would be replaced, but not necessarily jobs. The role of businesses would be to redesign processes so that employees complement machines. Employees can be sent for further training Last part is automation can replace tasks but not jobs, and businesses can redesign processes to help employees learn new skills that complement machines. Jobs can be enhanced with automation, and the businesses which will likely succeed in the digital era are those which can leverage on the power of machines and the unique human touch in the services and products they provide.

Questions for further personal evaluation:

  1. Do you think fears that automation is taking over jobs are justified?
  2. What are the challenges of the entire workforce adapting to the change of automation?

Useful vocabulary:

  1. ‘marshal’: assemble and arrange (a group of people, especially troops) in order
  2. ‘commensurate’: corresponding in size or degree; in proportion
  3. ‘dissonance’: lack of agreement or harmony between people or things

Here are more related articles for further reading:

  1. World Economic Forum: A positive outlook on the future of jobs reported in 2018.

“By 2022, today’s newly emerging occupations are set to grow from 16% to 27% of the employee base of large firms globally, while job roles currently affected by technological obsolescence are set to decrease from 31% to 21%. In purely quantitative terms, 75 million current job roles may be displaced by the shift in the division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms, while 133 million new job roles may emerge at the same time.

Growing occupations include roles such as Data Analysts, Software and Applications Developers and E-commerce and Social Media Specialists – jobs that are significantly based on, and enhanced by, the use of technology. However, also expected to grow are job roles based on distinctively ‘human’ traits, such as Customer Service Workers, Sales and Marketing Professionals, Training and Development, People and Culture, and Organizational Development Specialists as well as Innovation Managers.”

  1. Britannica: An article which details the history of automation, and applications of types of automation.

“The term automation was coined in the automobile industry about 1946 to describe the increased use of automatic devices and controls in mechanized production lines. The origin of the word is attributed to D.S. Harder, an engineering manager at the Ford Motor Company at the time. The term is used widely in a manufacturing context, but it is also applied outside manufacturing in connection with a variety of systems in which there is a significant substitution of mechanical, electrical, or computerized action for human effort and intelligence.

In general usage, automation can be defined as a technology concerned with performing a process by means of programmed commands combined with automatic feedback control to ensure proper execution of the instructions. The resulting system is capable of operating without human intervention. The development of this technology has become increasingly dependent on the use of computers and computer-related technologies. Consequently, automated systems have become increasingly sophisticated and complex. Advanced systems represent a level of capability and performance that surpass in many ways the abilities of humans to accomplish the same activities.”

Leave a Comment