We are beginning to see more and more stories about how technology is replacing workers. That has happened for a long time, ever since we developed “mechanical muscles”. But, in the past, technology relieved humans from drudgery and created new opportunities. However, I believe, that we may be reaching a turning point where technology does not necessarily create new employment opportunities.
For example, let us say Jim-Bob just barely graduated from high school and got a job at the local warehouse. For the first six months, all he does is sweep, move boxes by hand, and any other menial tasks needed to be done. But after six months, the supervisor notes that Jim-Bob is honest, works hard, and shows up on time and they invest in him by sending him to fork lift school, OSHA training, etc. Next thing you know, Jim-Bob is driving one of the forklifts on the late shift and is starting to make good money for a young single guy. He can now afford an apartment and new car, nice clothes, etc. and starts dating. He meets Carly-Sue at the local meat and three and they get serious, buy a ring, and make it official. Their wedding was nice, a pleasant honeymoon, and two years later Jim Jr. is born, followed closely by Missy. The apartment is getting crowded, so they find a house in a good school district, and settle in for the long haul. Along the way, Jim-Bob and Carly-Sue buy appliances, cars, boats, clothes, TVs, computers, school supplies, food, eat out, go on vacations, on and on. Jim Jr. is accepted to good college and Missy gets a scholarship to the Ivy League. Life is good. Jim-Bob is now a grandpa, retires from the warehouse where he is now the assistant manager, and Carly-Sue sells her bakery so that she and Jim-Bob can enjoy retirement and travel the world, take in a cruise or two.
Enter an automated forklift at the warehouse… it works 24/7/365 for $2.20 an hour. It does not join unions, does not take a smoke break, does not have to leave early to take Jim Jr. to baseball or Missy to soccer. It just works. In this new world, what does that mean to the next generation of workers?
No job for Jim-Bob, no money to start a life with Carly-Sue, and no distribution of wealth to all of the business owners, that supported their life style. No money to buy a new house, so no house was built for them, so all of the construction people were put out of work (masons, carpenters, electricians, sheet rockers, painters, HVAC techs, roofers, on and on). No wedding, no venue, no wedding planner, no cake, no reception, no honeymoon. No kids, no kid toys, no school supplies, no need for teachers, etc. I could go on, but you get the point. It is not just the job at the warehouse, but all of the jobs that the job at the warehouse supported along the way for the 30+ years of Jim-Bob and Carly-Sue’s working life. Whether those supporting jobs are replaced by automation is almost a non-issue, they will not exist because Jim-Bob and Carly-Sue do not have money to pay for the products and services the supporting industries provided.
Please do not misunderstand; I am not anti-technology. It is inevitable, and it is happening faster than most of us are ready to understand the impact. I do believe that we need to start discussing this issue in education TODAY so that we can prepare the next generation for the life in this new age of automation. We are already seeing the leading edge of these changes in remote areas, but within five years, it will be a commonplace occurrence, and may take twenty more years work fully through developed world economies, but by 2030, I predict that most of us would not understand the world that we have created.
The following articles attest to some of the changes taking place already or in the near future.
How should we prepare our children for tomorrow?