Workers often feel threatened by automation, believing it will result in layoffs. While that can be true in some cases, it’s also true that automation creates new jobs even as it replaces old ones.
The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report of 2020 predicted that machines could replace as many as 85 million jobs by 2025. However, it also said that 97 new jobs that fit better with a new balance of labor between people, algorithms, and machines could emerge. Here are reasons why you shouldn’t be afraid that robots will steal your job.
Relief From Repetitive Jobs
Computers and robots excel at doing boring, repetitive things, whether it’s recording data or installing a part on an assembly line. When software and robots take over repetitive tasks, it frees up human workers to perform roles that require creativity, communication, and the ability to meaningfully place information in context.
Some skills will become increasingly valuable with the arrival of automation. For example, programmers who can write the instructions that direct robots to accurately perform their tasks will benefit from the effects of automation on metalworking and other manufacturing industries. Machinists and mechanics who service machines will benefit similarly.
Complexity Reflected in Compensation
When workers take on new roles that didn’t previously exist, they’re valuable pioneers. Employers value people who can solve problems, derive meaning from patterns, empathize with customers, and create new products that address human needs, which are things robots can’t do.
Advances in artificial intelligence suggest that machine learning can create smarter devices that respond better to environmental conditions and human needs. Think of a smart thermostat that learns your temperature preferences at different times of day.
But anyone who has been thwarted by autocorrect in a text message or a similar technology realizes there are still substantial limitations to machine learning.
To reduce the worry that robots will steal your job, remember that there are many human activities that machines will simply never be able to do. After all, it’s hard to imagine a successful robot salesperson that can overcome a customer’s objections and persuade them to buy in spite of them.
Inequality Is the Greater Risk
Studies on the effects of automation point to increased inequality as a greater threat to job security for many workers. There’s a stark divide between different groups of workers in our society. During the pandemic, many professional workers with college degrees pivoted to productive work-from-home jobs, while many lower-wage service workers without degrees lost work in droves. This contrast is a cautionary tale about the future of the workforce.
However, a declining birth rate and an increasing rate of retirement among older workers benefit entry-level workers in all fields. These factors put them in a better position to look for work that they can enjoy and that pays well. Supply and demand still rule the labor market, as employers struggling to fill post-pandemic service sector positions can agree.