If you think about it, many of the great inventions over the last 200 years were designed to replace human labor. In the past, technical advances caused temporary disruptions but ultimately improved living standards, creating new categories of employment along the way. Tractors were developed to substitute a farmer’s sweat labor, alleviate the need for a manual plow and horse. That helped them to find better ways to manage their crops, changing the farming industry.
Today their great-grandchildren may design video games instead of taking on the family business.
Assembly lines were created to replace the inconsistent human, with the constant pace of a machine, and computers were designed to replace fluctuating human calculations with digital perfection.
Could large groups of people could become obsolete, suffering the same fate as plow horses after the invention of the tractor?
These inventions have worked and improved our way of life, as well as our workforce. We no longer dig ditches by hand, or do bookkeeping using actual books. Machines increasingly do our work for us. But there are still so many jobs that require human genius and creativity.
Even though we may feel threatened by technology, it is actually creating jobs.
However, this doesn’t mean we’ll always have plenty of jobs. Take the introduction of ATMs. They ended up having two opposing effects on bank teller employment. As you’d expect, they replaced a lot of teller tasks, and the number of tellers per branch fell by about one-third. But banks quickly discovered that ATMs made it cheaper to open new branches as well. So the number of bank branches increased by about 40 percent in the same time period.
The bottom line meant more branches and more tellers. But the teller job changed and tellers adapted to the new requirements. As their routine, cash-handling tasks decreased, they became less like checkout clerks and more like salespeople, creating relationships with customers, solving problems and introducing them to new products like credit cards, loans and investments. They were now doing a more demanding job.
Yes, ATMs could do certain cash-handling tasks faster and better than tellers, but that didn’t make human tellers unnecessary. Instead, it increased the importance of their problem-solving skills and their relationships with customers.
As our tools improve, technology magnifies our leverage and increases the importance of our expertise, judgment and creativity.
Though technology seems to threaten a wide-raging category of jobs previously seen as safe, like legal assistants, corporate auditors and investment managers, it doesn’t mean that the workers in those jobs will become obsolete, suffering the same fate as plow horses.
So I ask you … Is your current job, or the career you are currently studying for, going to be around as the new wave of technology hits?
Could you find yourself being replaced by automation? What skill sets are you developing today that may be automated within your work life? Are you willing to adapt to the new qualifications?
The message here is to take some time to stop and do a reality check on your career path, or school major. Make sure you are personally developing and keeping up-to-date with the skills our economy will need in the future, not just for our economy’s immediate needs.
The future will be based around the innovative economy, and how to support it. Displaced employees will adapt.