The country’s fear of automation-induced joblessness first surfaced during the early 1960s. Source:Getty
By Nicholas Wyman
We are experiencing what some call a ‘tsunami of technological change’, the effects of which may be as disruptive for us as the industrial revolution was for people in the 19th century.
And you don’t have to be flotsam. Here’s the lowdown on the future of work.
Automation, big data, robotics and artificial intelligence are coming on fast and profoundly changing the way we live. Jobs in many industries are being altered, reduced, and in some cases, wiped out by a march in technology.
But, there is an optimistic movement sweeping the country. Well, more like a ripple at this stage, but with promise.
Some employers, governments, and individuals are being proactive in creating a workforce that flows into the future. Finding a new and satisfying place in the workforce won’t be quick and easy for everyone. For instance, an auto assembler displaced by a robot today will not glide into a highly paid position as a robot service technician tomorrow. Some workers will need years of training and experience to match their pay packet.
Older, less skilled workers may never make a satisfactory transition. For example, a 50-year-old West Virginia coal miner may end up permanently unemployed or working in a restaurant or retail store at half his former wage rate.
One need only look at unemployment and underemployment in America’s Rust Belt to appreciate how long the period of worker reabsorption can take in some cases, and how badly take-home pay can be hit when a person moves from a manufacturing job to service sector employment. Skill mismatches and the inability of workers to move to where new and better jobs are being created feature prominently in absorption problems. Fortunately, by working together, we can mitigate the skills aspect of the problem.
Employers. Companies in manufacturing, construction, healthcare, and technology know they have a big problem: too few candidates with the skills needed to handle essential jobs. In the US, this ‘skills gap’ currently stands at roughly three million. The majority of this gap falls within the so-called ‘middle skills’ area: electricians, plumbers, welders, carpenters, robotic and medical technicians, mechanics, nurses and the like.
Forward-thinking employers are beginning to address their skill gaps through apprenticeships and collaborative efforts with local secondary schools and community colleges. If enough companies get on board, these initiatives will help the nation absorb workers displaced by future automation.
Government. Government can’t solve our employment problems, but it can be the catalyst for desired outcomes. I have witnessed this in parts of the country where state labor departments, school districts, and local employers have worked together. They’ve crafted educational programs and partnerships that attract major employers and prepare young people for productive, well-paid careers. And it’s working.
Apprenticeships (or even Traineeships/Cadetships as they are known in some countries) are the most cost-effective means of developing workplace skills tailored to the needs of employers. Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and other European nations are masters of this time-tested approach to vocational development. Their governments play an essential supportive role by setting standards, certifying training programs, and awarding journeyman and master designations. We need more of that collaboration here. The good news is that we are beginning to see rising numbers of new apprenticeships being registered with the Department of Labor, which has has increased the potential of company-run apprenticeships.
Individuals. A reader could ask themselves, what are the prospects in your industry, your sector. Can you position yourself a step ahead of anticipated change? It’s up to you to coast in your current role or take charge of your employment now and for the future. Workers should ask themselves, “Is my job ripe for automation?” If that job is repetitive, routine, rule-based, and highly paid, the answer is yes.
These workers should seek ways to leverage their current knowhow and experience into higher-level work that automation can’t duplicate. For them, automation may be a blessing in disguise, taking over the boring, low-value parts of their daily work, and giving them space to create greater value through problem-solving, helping customers, improving quality and throughput, and so on. People preparing to enter (or re-enter) the workforce are also obliged to do their homework. They should identify vocations in demand, well compensated, and generally safe from automation. In broad strokes, these include management, sales, nursing/patient care, teaching, law enforcement/public safety, food and hospitality, information technology and equipment maintenance and repair
You can train for almost all of these areas today through apprenticeships, traineeships, cadetships programs. All without taking on a mountain of college debt.
So, who’s up for a surf on the tsunami of change due for the future workforce? Get on board with a self-curated skillset you’ll hone through paid on-the-job training. It’s that easy.