I am not a robot - how Technology is changing the workplace

Back in 2105, whilst researching future workplace conditions, I found an article on National Public Radio (US) about robots taking jobs.

The article was based on (and was promoting) a book called ‘Rise of the Robots’ Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford.

In the article Ford says that “robots, once thought of as a threat to only manufacturing jobs, are poised to replace humans as teachers, journalists, lawyers and others in the service sector”.

In his book Ford describes “the social and economic disruption that is likely to result when educated workers can no longer find employment”.

A few days later NPR provided an on line tool so that people could type in their job and see what the likelihood of their job disappearing in the near future.

The did qualify this by saying that “these estimates are rough and likely to be wrong. But consider this a snapshot of what some smart people think the future might look like. If it says your job will likely be replaced by a machine, you’ve been warned”.

As you can imagine this item generated a great deal of interest and was reported on world-wide via various media from Fortune.com to Sky news and the BBC (the latter providing its own on-line tool to see which jobs are at risk:

Speculation about robots replacing jobs is not new. The BBC reported on this only last year following a report by Dr Carl Frey, an Oxford University researcher who “predicted that work automation put up to 47% of existing US jobs at "high risk”. This statistic was challenged by Prof Robert Atkinson, president of the US-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation think tank but the debate is still alive and well.

An earlier report (May 2010, Personnel Today) also described the impact of technological developments on the labour market. In this article the author suggested that over the next 10 years “developments in technology will mean that all functions will make use of specialist technology” and “employees of the future will be faced with continuous training and education on the specialist software and applications that support their function”.

What is surprising is the way that some articles seem to suggest that ‘automation is replacing people’ is something new and challenging. It is just over 100 years since the Ford Motor Company introduced the assembly line for car production in 1913. In the 1930’s Japan developed the first micro-switch and protective relay components for use in industrial manufacturing automation.

To make this article more relevant I wanted to see if the thinking had changed in the past 3 years and found that the message was much more positive.

In January this year the World Economic Forum reports “that digital platforms will empower people to become their own boss with the freedom to choose when and where to work and how much they will earn”. They went on to say that “While technology may displace older job skills, new work demands emerge” and concluded that hysteria surrounding the previous ‘end of work’ reports was a ‘sham’.

In 2017 Fortune shared this view that “technology replaces and creates’ jobs” and in MetLife’s 2018 Employee Benefits report they found that “56% of employers and 49% of employees say they are optimistic about automation technologies like AI, analytics, and robots” although this is not without some concern. They also reported that “51% of employers and 46% of employees say they worry that the workplace is becoming less human due to automation”.

I could go on but I think the message is clear - developments in technology to support and enhance the workplace are not new and will continue to shape and change our working environment, career opportunities and development.

The most important thing is to be aware of these changes and plan ahead. My Working Life spends a considerable amount of time tracking trends in the workplace so keep an eye on our blog / podcasts as well as the Useful Stuff section of the members’ area.

And make a note - if your job is on the ‘most likely to disappear in 10 years’ list then start thinking about alternative career options and your own development needs right now!