“The robots are coming” are four words that have struck fear into the hearts of human beings in films and science fiction novels. These days, the fear of robots taking over much-needed jobs that people do has become a real fear for some workers. The rise of automation has brought great opportunities, but also uncertainty about the impact of automation technology on the workforce as we know it. For many, their jobs are being replaced by automation.
While many are fearful of automation replacing their jobs, there is also a large group of people who believe that technology and automation will not decrease jobs. Not only that, they believe that it will greatly improve productivity and demand, which will actually increase job opportunities.
Here are some arguments for and against automation replacing jobs.
There are a lot of statistics floating around the internet about jobs threatened by autoamtion and what it will do to the workforce. A study carried out in partnership with Oxford University predicts that 47% of jobs are at risk in the next 20 years because of computerization. This number was found through an evaluation to see which common jobs could be done by artificial intelligence (AI). Typically, AI was able to perform jobs that included repetitive, formulaic or menial work.
The above study evaluated 702 different jobs in America to see how well a machine-learning algorithm could perform the tasks required in each position. It found that it could perform almost half of these tasks and would likely replace those positions in the next 10 to 20 years.
The part-time positions said to be at the highest risk of being replaced by automation technology include food preparation/food service, production operations and office/administrative support. These are the jobs threatened by automation because they include a lot of repetitive work that does not require much creativity or problem-solving skills.
In a wider scope, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released a study covering jobs at risk in 32 countries. It was revealed that 14% of jobs in these countries had more than 70% chance of being automated and 32% of jobs had a 50% to 70% chance of automation. This means that there are approximately 210 million jobs that automation will replace.
This automation technology targets the kind of introductory and basic tasks that one would find in most part-time positions. Jobs that require more critical thinking or creativity are generally less affected because AI is still far from matching the capabilities of the human brain.
Research from Brookings showed that, among routine, physical labor positions like office administration or food preparation, 70% of the tasks performed are automatable. Brookings puts these occupations in a “high risk” category. The more tasks that can be automated, the less work there will be for human employees to do and, therefore, the fewer employees the company will ultimately need.
The Brookings study also found that, while these high-risk positions only make up about a quarter of the workforce, there are also medium-risk positions that could see workers displaced due to of 30% to 70% of their tasks. This adds another 36% of jobs at risk for 61%. That is a whopping 88 million jobs estimated to be eliminated by this Brookings study.
When you think of jobs being replaced by automation, you may conjure up ideas from sci-fi movies of humanistic robots. It may feel like a far off threat that will not affect you in your lifetime. In reality, this technology is already a big part of our society and is much more subtle.
Automation is replacing jobs that can be run through the programming of menial tasks or apps that can perform tasks previously performed by humans. Take financial tracking and budgeting apps as an example. Whereas previously, you may have had to hire someone to run your payroll, you can now use software, like Xero and QuickBooks, to take care of your company’s payroll needs.
The effects of this technology and automation will be felt differently depending on various demographics such as age, location, race and gender.
Some locations are at a higher risk for having jobs that automation will replace than others. Areas that rely on manufacturing or agricultural production will feel negative effects more heavily than areas that rely on high-level, white collar work. For instance, 55% of the work in Kokomo, Indiana, can be automated while only 39% of work in Washington, D.C. is at risk.
Additionally, men are expected to be replaced by automation technology at a greater percentage than women. It is more common for men to work in jobs like transportation or construction that involve routine work. Women hold approximately 70% of jobs in health care, personal services and education, which are at a much lower risk of their jobs being threatened by automation due to their creative problem-solving requirements or expectations of personalized attention.
According to the CNBC report referenced above, in an economy with prevalent use of automation technology, young people are likely to have a much more difficult time finding entry-level jobs. Even with the benefit of using technology from a young age, upcoming generations will be required to have a specialized skill or degree before finding a career.
Lastly, different races will feel the effects of automation technology at different degrees of severity. Black and Hispanic workers will be at a higher risk of automation eliminating their jobs. Some 44% to 47% of jobs held by these workers are able to be replaced. For comparison, 40% of jobs held by White or Asian workers are at risk of being automated.
The future of automation technology does not look like the robots we have seen in films and on television. It looks like your smartphone, your computer or your tablet technology that has integrated itself into our everyday lives and may result in automation replacing jobs.
Now that you have been properly scared away from the idea of automation technology, let us take a look at arguments from a more optimistic perspective that says automation will not replace jobs.
There are a few different positive outcomes that people hope for when they support the implementation of automation technology. They may believe that automation will create more jobs. Or maybe it can simply result in the re-training of some individuals to meet new needs of the company without causing any layoffs. Perhaps more people will be encouraged to join the gig economy, be their own boss and work independently through digital platforms.
Supporters of automation technology believe that innovative technology and automation will lead to a more prosperous society and it is not something that we should fight against. They don’t believe automation is replacing jobs.
The most provable argument that we have seen is that automation technology does, in fact, create jobs. For every app that replaces a human’s job, there is a team of people designing it, updating it and working behind the scenes for smooth operation or customer service needs.
As an example, ATMs have had a positive effect on the number of tellers employed at financial institutions. While the number of tellers per branch dropped in the first 15 or so years, the money that was saved in teller salaries did not just go into the pocket of the CEO. Actually, it was reallocated to opening more branches (43% more, to be exact) to increase the audience reach of the financial institution.
Because of this growth, more tellers were employed at the new branches. Logically, more work was also created for construction workers building new branches, management teams working at the branch or representing the branch in corporate offices and other team members were hired to perform other tasks at the new branches.
The financial surplus created by the use of ATMs was cycled back into the growth of the company. It allowed the financial institutions to increase “supply” to meet a larger “demand.” This line of thinking can apply to many other businesses. Most businesses seek to grow and reach larger audiences. Rather than simply seeking to lower costs, they seek to increase revenue. Automation technology can help them reach both of these goals.
For example, on-demand companies need to hire more workers than traditional companies. The most effective way to create more jobs is to use automation technology that can provide a seamless and stress-free hiring process. Fountain uses automation to help boost part-time jobs. Our functionality helps to hire the best workers, fast. Instead of diminishing the need for part-time workers, our software helps you to take full advantage of a growing number of contingent workers who are ready to work for your company.
In short, automation technology does not replace recruiters, but it makes them better and more efficient.
[Read our case study about how one recruiter can manage nearly 2,000 applicants because of Fountains’ automation.]
Many companies are not just looking for ways to cut labor costs when they implement automation technology. In fact, there are a few companies that are committed to preventing automation from eliminating jobs even as they shift to new technology. For instance, Boxed, Evian and Accenture have all committed to a zero-layoffs policy.
Let us look at Evian specifically. In order to meet their goal of zero layoffs, they offered to re-train all forklift drivers to become technicians when they started using automated shuttles. They paid for 30,000 hours of re-training from their own pocket because they wanted to reward the loyalty of their workers. They were so effective in keeping jobs in their plant that they even hired an additional 200 people to work there.
Boxed, an online company that delivers bulk-sized products, has also seen a positive outcome from their zero-layoff policy. They report that many of their pickers that have been re-trained to work with the new automation technology have been trained into new positions and even seen an increase in pay. Because there are automated systems performing basic tasks and menial work, employees are able to transition more into managerial, white collar positions.
You might be saying, “Wait a minute. If there are fewer tasks to complete, there is less work to do. And if there is less work to do, businesses will not need as many employees, right?” This may be true in some circumstances, but it really depends on the priority of the business decision-makers and it depends on the position that you are in. Are decision-makers looking to decrease the number of employees or are they looking to free up the employees to focus on aspects that require a human touch?
For instance, if you are an accountant, a lot of your work can be automated – balance spreadsheets, track expenditures, etc. If this work can be automated, it frees you up to perform more advanced tasks and spend more time trying to grow your business. When you are bogged down with basic data-entry, you are spending too much time on non-specialized work.
While this specific example is not a part-time position, it would affect part-time workers in a similar way. Instead of spending their hours on checkout, grocery cashiers can be trained in inventory management and sales strategies to encourage customers to spend more.
There are some serious positives and negatives to consider when deciding whether or not to implement automation technology to replace routine, part-time work. It is important to take the time to research the effects that this technology has on different aspects of businesses in your industry.
Automation technology should be used to enhance your brand. One way to ensure that your company’s brand remains intact is to continually strive to reduce the time to hire rates while offering candidates the best experience.
Candidates are ready to report their experience dealing with your business on sites like Glassdoor. For the on-demand economy, part-time workers are the bread and butter of a thriving business. Gig workers are used for quick turnarounds with the least inconvenience.
Fountain provides the technology automation support to enable your recruiters and hiring managers to deal more effectively with the human part of hiring, for example, interviewing.
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