By Dr. David Lawson
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University
Historians say that understanding the past is key to shaping how the future will unfold. By studying past events, we have an understanding of why those events happened and we gain the insight to mitigate the effects of future events.
Studying the past allows us to innovate and create solutions to manage global demand for goods and services. It also provides unseen opportunities for business and new careers globally.
Technology Makes Our Lives Easier, But Its Effect on Jobs Needs Consideration
The rise of technology – the new global industrial revolution – has reshaped many of the industries in which we were once dependent for our careers. For instance, ATMs or mobile apps have replaced many positions in the finance industry. We deposit funds, buy and sell stocks, and buy products with electronic funds, credit cards and ATM machines, without the need for human intervention.
The same concept of replacing human workers with technology has taken root in the food industry, with McDonald’s evaluating the use of kiosks to serve customers and eliminating the human touch. Similarly, Walmart has replaced many associate positions with self-checkout units.
Will Technology Increase Unemployment?
The current forecast is that as machines replace humans, unemployment will rise. But is that true? In some cases – yes, machines will replace humans in some fields as they did in the auto industry with robotic welders and paint systems.
However, we should also recognize the new and exciting career opportunities that technology has created. In the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures,” for example, a group of NASA mathematicians reinvented their careers, taking them from an obscure backroom function to the forefront of using new technology.
For those mathematicians, their use of technology made their work better, faster and cheaper. In addition, their use of technology created new opportunities in engineering, mathematics and science that impacted not only the space programs and government, but also bettered global business and society. They took their skills and applied them in a new and exciting way.
How Should We Cope with Technology’s Impact on the Workplace?
As an economist, I can say with confidence that nothing happens unless a human is involved at the onset. Machines do not make machines, apps for mobile devices do not magically appear and the Internet does not operate autonomously…there are humans involved in all innovation.
But what does that mean for us, the human workers? We must rethink our strategy toward our education and careers. We must figure out a way to move to the front of technology, instead of having technology dictate our work and eventually put us out of work.
Currently, our children are steeped in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) from the earliest grades. They are encouraged to continue pursuing STEM programs throughout their college years.
As adults, we must do the same. We must look for new technological skills and ways to apply them. We must adapt and learn, always looking for ways to improve ourselves. We must do as technological visionary Steve Jobs said and “think differently.”
The need for humans in the workplace has not ended, but it has been redefined. In the business world, the saying “change is a constant” is a reality and we must change with it.
British naturalist Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change.”
About the Author
Dr. David Lawson is a futurist, strategist, economist, management consultant and organizational coach with more than 25 years of experience in business and academia. He holds a Ph.D. from Webster University in Strategy and Organizational Studies, an M.B.A. from Fontbonne University in Business Administration and a B.S. from Maryville University’s School of Business and Information Technology. He has worked with the Department of Defense, Fortune 50 organizations and many public, private and non-profit organizations.