Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) have reignited the conversation around job loss due to automation. While many of these articles offer little insight beyond clickbait headlines, the truth is no one is sure how AI, ML, and other new technologies will affect overall employment. Even the experts can’t agree. Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently wrote on the topic and noted five questions to ask about the future of job automation.
Per HBR, “…automation has been going on for centuries, and jobs still exist: that’s because automation replaces some kinds of human labor while boosting demand for others. Furthermore, job upheaval today is relatively modest. For instance, the mix of jobs in the economy is changing more slowly in recent decades than in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, economists worry that the labor market isn’t dynamic enough: numerous measures of fluidity and dynamism, like migration and job turnover, have been declining for decades.” Digging in on the topic, the article asks the following questions.
Will workers whose jobs are automated be able to transition to new jobs?
This is an important question. McKinsey has also written about it, “Automation will displace many jobs over the next ten to 15 years, but many others will be created and even more will change. Jobs of the future will use different skills and may have higher educational requirements.” There will be a need for training and support to help those employees looking at newly created roles.
Who will bear the burden of automation?
Automation tends to impact people with lower levels of education. And many of the jobs that will be automated are in smaller metro areas in the South, Midwest and other inland areas. The negative impact will be felt more strongly in these areas and by those without a college education or specific technical training. Thinking about how to minimize the impact in some of these areas is something leaders do today.
How will automation affect the supply of labor?
Historically, automation has had an effect on both labor supply as well as labor demand. For example, the advent of home appliances freed up women to enter the workforce. Today’s changes will also impact how people work in the future. What’s unknown is how this will play out.
How will automation affect wages and how will wages affect automation?
Automation is driven in part by costs. Even if a job could be automated, does it make fiscal sense to automate it? For example, the tight labor market we’re experiencing today, coupled with the inability to find people for openings and the resulting increase in salaries could increase the desire for technological solutions. And the reverse is also true. High unemployment times, similar to 2009, would depress the need for automation.
How will automation change job searching?
AI can assist in creating better candidate matches. There are also automated tests and screening processes that can remove unconscious biases that take place during human interviews. That is, if the software isn’t designed with the biases in the first place. The impact will be interesting to see as some people may do better with technology and others could do worse. Algorithmic evaluations need to prove their effectiveness to be widely adopted.
There’s no simple answer to the impact of technology and job automation. The headlines will try to get your attention by making outrageous claims, while history shows us the opposite is true. As a leader, you need to be thinking about how automation will impact your labor force in the coming years, where you see more human roles required, and how you can identify and train those that could fill those roles.