Future Friday: Are they Luddites or are there real concerns?

Will this be the scenario in grocery chains or other retail operations?

Generally whenever you hear a discussion of the impending loss of jobs to robots there is a reference to “Luddites.” Since I just used the term I felt an explanation of the term might be appropriate before continuing with my blog post. According to Wikipedia:

The Luddites were a group of English textile workers and weavers in the 19th century who destroyed weaving machinery as a form of protest. The group was protesting the use of machinery in a ‘fraudulent and deceitful manner’ to get around standard labor practices. Luddites feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste as machines would replace their role in the industry. It is a misconception that the Luddites protested against the machinery itself in an attempt to halt progress of technology. However, the term has come to mean one opposed to industrialization, automation, computerization or new technologies in general. (English spellings correct to American English)

I start off this way because an article I am referencing uses the term Luddite and I wanted to make sure we are all using the same definition. So much for the history lesson, and on to the blog post.

Union protests the Amazon purchase of Whole Foods

An article in the Washington Post stated that Marc Perone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, plans to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, based on his impression that the purchase of Whole Foods by Amazon will be bad for the grocery business and will squash competition. This of course will have a detrimental effect on the union ultimately reducing their dues paying membership as other grocery retailers close due to the mass and might of Amazon. Quoted in the article Perone said “I’ve got concerns, and our organization has concerns, about what technology does and at what cost to society…We don’t want to be Luddites about technology, but we’ve got real concerns about what happens to America in the future.”
Now let’s be honest, I don’t think Mr. Perone really has a concern about all of America. His concern is about his union membership, but it is a concern echoed by other retailers who have been affected by the power of online shopping through Amazon. One headline blared “12 Major Retailers Closing Stores Like Crazy.”

Not just retailers

It is not just retailers that are feeling the heat of technology. As other industries adopt new technology many jobs are in danger of disappearing. In the article How data robots will influence the future of work, by writer Avi Perez, he states “…AI are expected to increase 300 per cent as compared to last year. It will be interesting to see the different ways in which AI gets incorporated into products and services. However, the thought of this kind of automation has some in the data industry fearing for their jobs.”
He further says:

Some may have read a frightening headline that, in just 20 years, nearly half of all jobs will be replaced by automation and artificial intelligence. While tools, technology and data can do quite a bit, it is still up to us to have a solid understanding of the business problem we are attempting to solve. Computers aren’t that smart yet. This is why jobs involving data are not going away anytime soon, and why data scientists are in such high demand.

Author Ellie Donnelly, writing in The future of work 2017: Management and accounting roles most at risk from new tech, says that middle management, accounting, secretarial, receptionists and, surprisingly to me, HR positions are very likely to be heavily effected by AI. She however, offers some hope, by saying that a survey showed that the most sought after skill sets included communication skills; leadership agility; eagerness to learn and emotional intelligence. The implication is that if you have these you will be more likely not to be displaced by technology. This echoes what I said in Future Friday: Nine Critical Skills for the Future of HR and Future Friday: The skill sets need for the HR professional of the future.

Keeping it human

In reality jobs will be lost to technology. At the same time jobs will also be created by technology, as the Luddites found out. The key thing for humans is to be learners, be adaptable, and be good communicators. Only in this way will we be secure in our futures with technology.

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