I remember speaking with friends several years ago about the advancement of technology. All of them — bankers, lawyers, surgeons, etc. — agreed that, while technology was replacing the work effort of many people across the globe, technology would never make people obsolete on a grand scale. The opinion expressed was, “The markets will expand. New companies will be formed. These companies will require more workers, so the fact that technology replaces human effort in many areas will have a negligible effect.”
That was then. This is now.
From my perspective, technology has continued to get more sophisticated and wonderful with each passing day. Most technology is designed to better people’s lives and to replace human manual processes. But in doing so, it is replacing jobs … jobs that are not being re-created elsewhere.
What I see is a growing number of people who are unemployed, underemployed, or unemployable. If technology continues to replace jobs — and it will, in all industries and all walks of life — I can foresee a day when not only the marginalized people in the world are out of work, but even people who are well-educated and highly-skilled.
No one is going to stop the advancement of technology, nor should we try. Technology is good. It brings great value to our lives. But we shouldn’t stick our collective heads in the sand about the jobs technology is replacing and assume that “everything will work out.”
Most things in life don’t “work out” unless we put thought, planning, and effort into them. Certainly, something as huge as the future of our global economy and the structure of our society shouldn’t be left to chance.
Instead, we need to ask two critical questions: “Why are jobs being replaced by technology and not being re-created elsewhere?” and “What are we going to do to change this trend?”
If you are hoping for answers to those two questions in this blog, I am afraid you will be disappointed. I won’t pretend to have solutions to an issue that is this complex. But together, we can find the solutions. That is the crux: we can find a solution, but only if we work together. Individuals can’t shrug and say, “It’s the government’s responsibility.” Government can’t wash their hands of it and say, “It’s industry’s responsibility.” The industry can’t pass the ball and say, “It’s education’s responsibility.”
No, this is everybody’s responsibility. It is, after all, our lives, our society, our economy, and our world that is at stake.
Here are a few things to take into consideration. Society measures a company’s success based on its bottom line results. If the stock drops, people drop the stock. But creating jobs very well might demand that a company makes an investment that impacts its ability to turn as great a profit. Perhaps, then, we as a society need to change the way we measure success and start supporting companies that will support the kind of world we want to live in.
When it comes to industry, a single company may or may not be able to create many jobs. But what about the professional associations that exist by the hundreds? What if, instead of treating a professional association as a means for getting cheap life insurance, people banded together as associations to study the potentially disruptive effects of technology on their industry. They could then plan for how to change their jobs, skills, roles, and responsibilities so they could continue to offer value to businesses and industries — leveraging new technology rather than being disrupted by it.
Then there’s education. I live in Chicago, where over 30% of high school students do not graduate. What does this say about the state of education in this country? How about worldwide? A lack of education definitely leads to people working in jobs that can be replaced by technology. What are we doing to ensure that the next generation has the education they need to compete against labor-saving technology?
And finally, there’s you and me. The individual. Quite frankly, we need to be thinking every day about how we can continue to add value to the companies we work for. How can I improve productivity, efficiency, benefit, impact, and innovation? How do I become better on a continual basis so that my value will always be greater than any technology that could be created to replace me?
That takes a great deal of awareness: awareness of where disruptive technology is about to explode, awareness of value-generating skills and how to develop them, awareness of business goals and how to contribute to them. It requires that we be proactive in changing ourselves so that we don’t find our situation changed for us.
Change is the only constant in life, and the pace of technology today has accelerated the rate of that change. Are we going to let ourselves be mastered by technology and allow change to dominate us, or are we going to take action to ensure that technology — and the change it brings — serve us and our needs individually, nationally, and globally?
Conversations like this one are where positive change begins, so now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts? Why do you think jobs are being replaced by technology and not being re-created elsewhere? What do you think we should do to turn this tide?
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