Infotech and the Future of Jobs

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Posted by: briansittley Comments: 0 0 Post Date: August 30, 2016

infotechFrom the editors of “Trends” comes a white paper released earlier this year that sheds light on how technology and the new world of ‘jobs’ will intersect to form our twenty-first century workforce.  We thought some of their findings and observations of interest and worth sharing today.
They begin by quoting the Brookings Institution which noted in a report that “Employment has shifted from the career to the job, to the task.”  Advances in communication and information technologies have given rise to ‘the gig economy,’ wherein  a company like Uber can employ 327,000 drivers – not as employees but as independent contractors – while only actually employing 2,000 salaried folks worldwide.  Given their sizable revenues, Uber on a per-(actual) employee basis has a lot of revenue per employee; but one might question their overall contribution to the new economy when you think of the traditional ‘job’ of 50 or 100 years ago, at say, your typical auto manufacturer, where it took many times the workers to produce large revenues.  Those jobs are going fast.
And Uber is not unique when you consider that there’s an Uber-like service for just about anything you can think of, “from package pickup to housecleaning and house calls by physicians.”
Meanwhile, Gartner Research predicts one in three jobs will be converted to software, robots or smart machines by 2025.  New digital businesses require less labor, and machines will sort and code the data better than humans ever could.
At Oxford, the prediction is that nearly half of U.S. jobs could be “susceptible to computerization over the next two decades.”  And a McKinsey study concludes that 45% of activities people today are paid to perform can be automated “by adapting currently demonstrated technologies.”
Still, there is hope and optimism.  Even as automation takes over many automation jobs, new jobs are being added in services.  Robert Cohen of the Economic Strategy Institute predicts that 25 million new jobs will be crated for human analysts who can interpret all the data just now beginning to be produced by the Internet of Things.  Subtract the 15 million jobs expected to be lost to automation and you still have a net gain of 10 million jobs.
Cohen also notes that while driverless cars will reduce jobs, the buildout of infrastructure for them will create enormous demand for construction workers and others with technical skills.  Trends editors foresee a few key developments coming…

  1. Robots and other technologies won’t make human workers obsolete. Instead, companies will pair humans and technology in combinations that will be more productive than either alone.
  2. Many jobs will remain immune to automation even as new tech advances. “People who are skilled in creativity and understanding people’s emotions have nothing to fear,” note the Trends  As machines and tech take over, employees will migrate to “more creative, emotionally sensitive parts of their jobs.”
  3. Jobs in health care will also evolve, with tech taking over many traditional lab and doctor tasks.

The ‘jobs of the future’ debate is in full swell right now.  Automation always has, and always will, displace jobs.  Historically, those jobs have always been replaced by newer, better jobs – for most.  There is a debate raging today over whether that long-accepted belief will survive into this new century; the jury is still out.  Early results are not entirely encouraging, but it may in fact be too early to judge.
But as Intel CEO Andy Grove famously once said, in only a slightly different context, “only the paranoid survive.”
To shed a different light, be sure to read our next post, where we’ll see what some, including Trends editors, are saying about an American Manufacturing Renaissance…

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