I have written numerous times on the nature of work, robots, and artificial intelligence. You can find some of these articles here, here and here. So it was with interest that I read a recent study that shows that 47% of workers in the U.S. are in jobs that could easily be “robotized.”
The authors of the study, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, asked the question “how many jobs in the US are susceptible to computerization?” Based on 702 detailed job listings, the authors found that computers could already replace many workers in transportation and logistics, production labor and administrative support, given the advancements in artificial intelligence. Many of the jobs that have already been replaced are simpler, less complicated jobs or jobs that benefit from the tireless physical effort needed to do work for long periods of time. Robots on a production line don’t physically get tired and people do. However the authors said “While computerization has been historically confined to routine tasks involving explicit rule-based activities, algorithms for big data are now rapidly entering domains reliant upon pattern recognition and can readily substitute for labor in a wide range of non-routine cognitive tasks.” So the future holds that complicated jobs can be taken over as well.
Cameron Scott, writing for Singularity Hub, says that despite the future of AI “…the jobs most vulnerable to being given to a computer in the near future will be the lowest paying.”
Where do workers go?
Scott talked to Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution, told Singularity Hub. Burtless said “The economic effects of automation nevertheless remain uncertain because of the number of variables in play: possible regulation, the relative costs of labor and computing power, and whether or not workers receive additional training to move into new jobs.” Burtless added, “Technological progress has always caused turbulence in the labor market regularly foreclosing particular areas of work. But workers eventually land in other occupations. How long ‘eventually’ takes also depends on how healthy the overall economy is and whether labor markets were prepared for the changes.”
Scott also talked to two economists, David Autor and David Dorn, who backed Burtless’s argument. Autor and Dorn argue technological progress has contributed to the gap between the rich and the poor without reducing the total number of jobs in the United States. This is caused by the fact that the jobs that are going displace workers are and these displaced workers mostly have to move down into lower paying jobs because they can’t move up.
What can HR do?
Both Scott and Burtless say the Oxford Study has value because it helps to point out those occupational areas that are most likely to be computerized. These include jobs in services, sales and administration. What HR can do to prepare is to take a look at the large variety of jobs in their organization that could potentially be computerized. Assess the people currently doing those jobs and start determining what additional skills do they need in order to be able to move into other jobs as technology supplants them. Are there training programs that the company can conduct in order to retain them and keep them from sliding into lower paying jobs outside of the company? Or if you do not want to retain them then what needs to be put in place to ease their organizational exit when the time comes.
These are some of the things that should occupy your thinking time as you prepare for your company’s future.
Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young at FreeDigitalPhotos.net