Is automation bad for the job market?
You’ve probably heard the warnings: Automation threatens to increasingly eliminate jobs. While there is truth to those published reports, other experts suggest automation can actually help spur job market growth.
“It turns out that those of us who are willing to remanufacture ourselves will grow with the times just as others did in the past,” says Dr. Steven D. Mohan, Ph.D., a senior systems architect for WorldCom, and University of Phoenix College of Information Systems and Technology instructor. “People just need to be willing to be educated [appropriate to the times] and to use today’s technology.”
Kathryn M. Zuber, a longtime human resources executive and University of Phoenix graduate, concurs.
“There is a whole world of other, new jobs that need humans to perform them,” says Zuber, an HR executive at ProfitStreams™. Every time automation eliminates the human capacity in one area, she explains, ever-evolving technologies generate new jobs in need of a human’s creative input. One example: The growing need for open-source software developers and user-interface designers to work on mobile apps.
“The problem is that we don’t have enough people trained in the maths and sciences to support the growing demand for those jobs that are available,” she says. “We need to start grooming kids at the elementary and high school levels to think about these types of careers.”
Even the automation industry recognizes this educational focus is needed to maintain the automation profession, those people who work within robotic environments. For example, the Automation Federation continues to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education as part of its global workforce development initiative.
It is true that automated technologies, such as robotics in manufacturing and self services, have reduced the need for certain types of employees while also putting unskilled and entry-level jobs at risk, says University of Phoenix School of Business instructor and human resources specialist Donna B. Wyatt, Ph.D., SPHR.
However, automation also stands to improve our lives beyond the creation of new job positions, by streamlining job efficiency or taking on complex roles, she adds, and to replace mundane, rote jobs with more interesting ones
“Certainly, technology can relieve employees of more routine tasks and help to create new and different jobs for people — jobs that can be more engaging and exciting and tap into people’s interests and passions,” she says.
For example, Mohan notes, 19th-century agricultural automation — such as the invention of the tractor — did put some farmers out of business. However, it freed them to redirect their energies to produce greater innovations, particularly in manufacturing, creating a more efficient society with new jobs and new career paths more fitting to the times.
The keys, he adds, to being a worker who keeps up with the times are flexibility, adaptability and education. According to Mohan, “You are always going to have a human element in a work situation to make sure all of the systems work right and that is where [an education] comes in.”
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