By Gary Deel, Ph.D., JD
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Public University
(This is the fourth of a five-part series that will be published on Online Career Tips each Tuesday for the next few weeks.)
In Part 3 of this series, I laid out my predictions for the near-term future of today’s existing technologies. In this fourth article, I will share some thoughts on what individuals and whole societies might do to prepare for this techno-revolution.
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In a previous article, I said that the biggest threat from self-service technology proliferation is rising unemployment. Many well-respected luminaries have publicly speculated that we might be looking at unemployment rates approaching 30% within the next decade or two.
UBI Would Provide a Minimum Monthly Cash Subsidy to Every Citizen
As a result, some of these same thinkers have proposed national policies they believe will be necessary to literally keep people from starving to death. One proposal, universal basic income (UBI), would provide a minimum monthly cash subsidy to every citizen for basic living expenses. Of course, such a program would be tremendously expensive, but the idea has gained a lot of support in recent years.
More and more people are beginning to recognize the direction our society is headed. In fact, this very idea is the most prominent aspect of entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign platform for the 2020 election.
If elected, Yang promises to give every American ages 18 to 64 what he calls a “freedom dividend.” That is to say, a check for $1,000 every month, to be used as they see fit, no strings attached.
The concept of UBI is a complex idea that warrants a separate series of articles itself. There are many different factors to consider:
- How much should we pay citizens? Should the amount vary based on need or economic indicators? Or should it be the same for everyone?
- Should any conditions or prerequisites apply? Should citizens be eligible only if they are out of work? And if so, would that be an incentive for people to quit their current jobs and take advantage of the new subsidy program?
- How should recipients be allowed to spend their distributions? Does anything go? Or must the money be used only for certain basic life expenses? Would the government have to approve expenses?
- What do we do with other entitlement programs? Would UBI replace welfare and Social Security? Or simply add to them?
These are important questions. This is a conversation that we need to have for better or worse. If we don’t change our social safety nets to account for the rising unemployment that will accompany the proliferation of automation and technology, this crisis could quite literally be a life or death situation for many people.
But putting major societal policy changes aside for a moment, what can the individual do to prepare for a post-techno-revolutionary future?
Most Experts Don’t Believe It’s Likely Automation Will Replace All Human Lines of Work
Most experts don’t believe it’s likely that automation will replace humans in every conceivable line of work, at least not in the near future. That is why perhaps the most important thing that the current young working generation can do to prepare for this crisis is to target a career path that is less likely to be threatened by self-service automation.
Jobs that require specific skill sets that are hard to duplicate with self-service technology are a smart move strategically. Examples include professions such as medicine, law or education, but also trades such as plumbing, electrical and carpentry.
The former group is difficult to automate because of the degree of abstract thought and critical reasoning required; the latter group is just as challenging because of the physical dexterity necessary to perform the work. It is indeed a cliché, but staying in school and acquiring the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to outpace the technological revolution could mean the difference between a comfortable life and abject poverty.
But if every worker currently threatened by automation went out tomorrow in search of the training to retool for the new economy, it would put an unmanageable strain on higher learning institutions and trade schools. And even if the education industry could somehow handle all of these students, according to the Economist, we would have far more doctors, lawyers, teachers, plumbers, electricians and carpenters than the economy could support.
There is a larger problem here: There simply will not be enough jobs in the next decades of the 21st century to support the working population, a Medium blog post warns. This is where we as a society need to have the broader, more serious conversation about the UBI proposals, lest we let our fellow citizens starve to death. But in the interim, given that all such workers will NOT heed this advice, individuals reading this would do well to consider the personal benefits of getting ahead of the curve.
Self-Service Technologies Are Too Advantageous for Businesses to Stop Using Them
There’s no doubt that the proliferation of self-service technologies will create an unemployment crisis in the near future. The train has left the station and there is nothing at this point that we can do to stop it.
The advantages of these self-service technologies for businesses are too great, and the competitive costs of not evolving are too high. In many areas, technology has already reached a point of objective superiority over human beings. The list of occupations in which technology surpasses us will only continue to grow with time.
All we can do now is prepare as best we can by embracing individual career choices that are less likely to be threatened by self-service automation and advocating as a society for compassionate and well-informed choices in how to support those who will inevitably be left behind.
Start a management degree at American Public University.
About the Author
Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Public University. He holds a JD in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. He teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.
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