We’ve all heard the rumors surrounding automation and robotics—what’s going to happen to my job as a manufacturer? Is all this automation going to replace me in the future? Do I have the skills to step in to a new job if a robot eventually replaces my current job?
We hear you and we understand these concerns as well as anyone. We’ve been improving automation and robotics for decades now and the results can be seen everywhere—automated check-out lanes at the grocery store or driverless cars on the roads of California. But let us assure you—a new study covering decades of increasing automation across 317 occupations predicts that computerized workers will simply change more jobs than they destroy.
This new study, originally published by the Boston University of Law, took employment data from nearly 241 industry sectors between 1980 and 2013 and analyzed how jobs have adapted to the use of machines. The downside to this data: Technology like the Internet and robotics is “changing jobs on a scale perhaps never seen before,” says James Bessen, author of the study. However, Bessen also explains that in the past, leaps in automation like this has made work more efficient, reducing costs and giving employers the opportunity to hire more workers.
“Computers are creating as many jobs as they are replacing,” he tells USNews. “The problem is not that a computer will steal your job—it’s that another person who has more advanced skills could steal your job.”
And that’s the real problem with the march toward automation—the skills gap. According to the study, occupations that use computers to replace or assist job tasks are more likely to increase demand for their services and create new positions. But the problem is that automation can require people to learn new skills involving science, math, and computer engineering when their work becomes more specialized and machines take over the simpler tasks.
One particular talking point this study highlights is that human workers will remain in demand for jobs that involve interaction with other humans, Bessen says. Bank tellers, for example, were disrupted by the introduction of ATM’s, but now they’re trained to know more about finance so they can consult bank customers, instead of just passing out money.
Machines have a long way to advance before they are able to emulate people, even if artificial intelligence research will eventually make it possible for computers to do some tasks that are currently only done by humans. Even so, if and when the robots take over some of the simpler jobs, we can always adapt to this new way of doing things.
“We are pretty adaptive as a species,” says Tom Austin, an analyst on the digital workplace at Gartner market research firm. “If you give us new tools we are going to figure out how to use them.”
Photo credit: US News