Despite the fact that we implement some very cool technology solutions – or perhaps because we do – we are ever-sensitive to the impact that technology has on people. When our company began 30 years ago, we knew we could make companies much more efficient – the same principle that drives us today. And a more efficient company has a much greater likelihood of staying that way, and staying in existence.
Still, as we flash forward thirty years hence, it’s important to pay attention to some of the job implications of technology. Automation is a huge boon to the world’s workers, but only if companies and governments can manage the disruption that is often created.
According to a McKinsey Global Institute estimate, as reported recently in The Wall Street Journal, 375 million workers worldwide will “need to find new occupations or lose their livelihood to automation by 2030.”
That astounding figure represents roughly one in every seven workers on the planet, and the time line is only about a dozen years if the McKinsey folks are right. One of its principals, Susan Lund, remarked that “The question is, what are we going to do to manage the transition for the people who do lose their jobs?”
While those of us in the tech sector bear responsibility to varying degrees for that displacement, it comes down to the choices made by policy makers and business owners about how to support those displaced workers. This can take many forms, including investments in continuing education, training, new job-creation and the infrastructure-type projects that can support them.
Adopting automation tools, adjusting wages and reconciling regulatory issues all have an effect. Ultimately, those higher wages create even greater incentives for companies to automate and innovate. The transitioning of the affected workers creates a lot of potential for unrest – and remember, this isn’t just a national issue, but a global one.
In a sign of looking at the future in a whole new way, some countries are already experimenting with universal basic incomes – cash grants that provide a fiscal foundation in workers’ lives. The idea is to see if, given a subsistence income, the basic support infrastructure can be put in place to free up workers to aspire to newer, higher or more entrepreneurial heights. Or whether they’ll simply lose work incentive and just drop out altogether.
Support for displaced workers, Ms. Lund points out, can include guidance, career and skills coaching, and providing things like transportation and child care.
McKinsey estimates that about 15% of all hours worked globally could be automated by 2030 by using technology that is currently available. “60% of all occupations could be at least partially automated with current tools,” though only 5% are at risk of total automation, they add.
Machine learning… artificial intelligence… and other advanced forms of automation are real, and arriving now. Like past waves of technological evolution, they have the power to create more jobs than they replace. As we noted in a recent post, it’s already happening as we transition from fewer retail workers to even more warehouse and logistic jobs. This, as we noted, is already delivering higher paying jobs than the ones replaced, and more of them, which benefits all classes and sectors as the indirect result of technology’s contribution to higher productivity.
That increased productivity is what job growth, job creation and the benefits of automation are all about. It’s why thirty years ago we made “Productivity” the first word in our company name. And why the message is as important now as it was then.