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One hopes that through learning, students and working adults can not only enjoy the process itself, but position and prepare themselves for future opportunities in work and life. The world of work is changing, but exactly what the future of work might look like is open to debate, and we are exploring that debate in our post today. The question is: Can automation and humans co-exist profitably and positively?
Our first example comes from the World Economic Forum in preparation for Davos, the theme of which this year is Industry 4.0. The intention is to explore workforce transformation, not displacement. New employment and financial models are emerging, new technology, people are living longer, and the argument goes that there needs to be a renewed emphasis on the health of all workers as new challenges and opportunities evolve.
Three potential opportunities for how transformational technology and the workforce might integrate are presented here:
1. Automation as an optimiser. In this scenario, new technology expands the business and better serves customers, benefitting both customers, business and workforce. Conditions and opportunities for workers are improved, training takes place, the the whole enterprise is viewed as inter-connected and dynamic. Workers will ultimately benefit.
2. Cooperation replaces automation as a priority for technology companies. Businesses ensure that their workers and the companies that design their tech. seek collaborative solutions to problems, for example developing an app to improve worker efficiency or communication. By operating in this way, the business is not reactively training workers and/or laying off those who are no longer needed.
3. Digital transformation drives workforce transformation. Digital tech. is creating new markets and businesses (Go-Jek in Indonesia, M-Pesa in Kenya), and the workforce is changing as a result. But are these new opportunities providing decent digital work? Are people being paid properly? How are their work conditions? We've written before about the perils of the gig economy, and the 'race to the bottom' mentality when is comes to competing for work solely on price.
Next, this article from Bits and Atoms argues that automation does not necessarily mean the decline of the workforce and mass displacement of workers. Nik Dawson explains that the reality may be more nuanced than that, and is linked to how technology affects the nature of demand. Basically, new technology increases the efficiency of production, lowers cost of production, and increases supply. In the examples provided the market responds, demanding more, increasing employment until the market is satisfied. Demand may stay the same, but further technological innovation now means that employment starts to decline.
They key takeaway is that that pace of technological change alone is not sufficient to determine the impact of this technology on employment. Within certain conditions, the technology may instead create jobs and stimulate equally fast employment growth.
It's an interesting perspective to consider.
The next article from Brookings continues in our automation and jobs theme, looking at the reach of AI and automation into previously and exclusively human-only work domains. While the author does not necessarily see mass layoffs and disruption of work as likely, he does argue that it is likely that there will be an impact on workers, and that certain sections of the middle class may be especially at risk. Traditionally, the middle class has generally been more immune from work displacement due to higher standards of education and the nature of much of the work. In the future, the more highly educated middle class groups are more likely to thrive, but the lower educated middle class groups may not.
The article shares five policies that can limit worker displacement, and support middle class workers:
1. Education for 21st Century Skills
2. Setting up lifelong learning systems and retraining support
3. Workforce support - improving career guidance and training options
4. Wage insurance - insuring wages protects workers if their job is disrupted. For example, if they were previously earning $30 and lose their job, they would continue to be paid a portion of their wage while retraining.
5. Unemployment and disability reform to encourage training and up-skilling.
The author calls on employers to 'do the right thing', to their ultimate benefit, and concludes by stating that the above policies will not address all of the potential downsides of automation, they should have net positive results for workers.
Thank you for joining us this week. We welcome any and all feedback and comments, and please contact me with any questions or suggestions you have.