The invasion of technology and work in the 21st century

We have been talking for long about automation and the tech invasion in the labour market as a threat able to wipe out millions of jobs.

After all, this is not a sudden fear. The anxiety began in the early 1800s when textile workers, who later became known as Luddites, reacted to automation by destroying machinery that reduced – or changed – the need for their labour.

The figures of automation, according to a University of Oxford study, are the following:

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What seems clear from this data is that the jobs at higher risk of automation are those which require less creativity, leaving to machines the mechanical processes.

However, it is not correct– or at least, it is not correct yet – to say that machines are taking over human work.

According to a New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll of Americans without jobs aged 25-54, only 57% of them actively looked for a job in the last 4 weeks before being interviewed.

44% of the men involved said there were jobs in their area they think they could obtain but weren’t willing to take them. In other cases, around a third of those surveyed (including women) indicated that a spouse, food stamps or disability benefits provided another source of income.

Moreover, a an Express Employment Professionals 2014 survey showed that 44% of the unemployed are “not at all willing” to relocate to a new city/town for a job and 60% are “not at all willing” to move to another state to find work.

This being the big picture, we have to understand how to respond to this unstoppable technological invasion. The productivity benefits of automation are unparalleled, but the main issue will be how to reintegrate into the labour market those whose job was, or will be, automated. Of course, a great share of adaptability and audacity in reinventing themselves will be required, but these skills should not be disjointed from a lifelong and versatile training of workers, that gives them the right skills to face a changing world. Not necessarily for worse.

 

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