Automation is something that has always been scary. Oftentimes new automation technologies and advancements make the workforce uneasy because the long-term effects on their employment are unknown. We saw this during the industrial revolution at the turn of the century—lots of people were out of work as machines took over things like agriculture; but eventually the workforce adapted and found themselves in new career paths that didn’t exist before.
Now we’re seeing a new wave of automation taking over, and there is widespread fear about job loss, especially for those in low-paying jobs. About 20 percent of the work currently being done in the world is at risk of being lost to automation. How can we ensure the transition to the next level of automation goes as smoothly as possible?
It’s All About TrainingEven now, 14 percent of the workforce worldwide needs to be retrained. Jobs centered on physical activities, data processing, and repetitive tasks will be the first ones to go. As new automation technologies reduce the need for certain members of the workforce, it is crucial to help those displaced people find a new line of work. There are several ways to approach this.
There are always going to be some things that just cannot be automated, at least not with the current technology available. Anything that has to do with emotional intelligence, soft skills, and managing people is unlikely to be automated during our lifetimes. Robots and artificial intelligence can do only what we tell them to do, and they currently lack the ability to feel human empathy, which is the key to many jobs in managing and helping people.
First, offering training, re-training, and management shadowing opportunities are crucial. Even at those types of jobs that are dependent on low-paid workers, helping those workers stay in jobs through specialized training can keep more people employed. Highly specialized jobs, especially those that involve managing and training other people, are unlikely to be replaced with automation, so providing a way to move up is key.
Second, helping displaced employees find a new path when they are automated out of a job is critical. There will always be a need for people who build, program, and maintain AI and robotic systems, so that is a great place to start. Jobs like teachers and healthcare workers are also highly unlikely to be replaced by automation anytime soon.