By: Dominic Tancredi, CEO & Co-founder // Dom & Tom
(Over the next couple of weeks, in my ‘Let’s Break Down the Myths’ article series, I’m going to examine and dispel myths that are frequently associated with workflow automation. Today’s article is on unemployment, one of the most common concerns.)
Myth 1: Automation Will Cause Unemployment
Let’s be honest. When you hear the words, “workplace automation,” one of the first things that come to mind is, “am I going to lose my job?!”
It’s safe to say that you’re not the only one. Unemployment via automation is a valid concern. The Brookings Institute reports that “some 49% of workers aged 16 – 24 are at risk of losing their jobs to artificial intelligence…”
And now that Blockchain kiddies are playing with a DAO (a distributed autonomous organization running on a decentralized ecosystem) everyone’s job is at stake (myself included.)
You may feel the need to panic but there’s plenty of reasons to be excited rather than alarmed.
Automation is Human-First
Workflow automation benefits humans on all levels first. Yes, businesses are investing in themselves and their employees (check out what I had to say about the benefits) but more importantly, human beings are the primary winner in the long-run.
The most straightforward place for any business to automate isn’t the high-order, emotional intelligent processes like negotiating a complex digital product to launch.
It’s meant to help out with the drudge tasks. The ones you grind in and out daily. These tasks don’t pay well and for people who train to manage those low-order tasks, the compensation can be much higher, leading to a Dilbert-ian world of middle-management.
Let’s pretend there’s a task that a human is paid to do. It’s quick, it’s easy, and there’s a huge need to repeat that task many times over. Maybe it’s looking at security IDs at an airport. Maybe it’s taking an order at a restaurant. Maybe it’s inspecting a site for construction.
These tasks, originally, were great for younger adults just entering the workforce to do: they provide value, with low-risk, low-accountability, and an entry into the modern day workforce. But they suffer from risk of burnout (the article is old but the reality still holds.)
One of my entry-level jobs was to handle data entry for a greeting card company; day in and out I would enter names from handwritten sheets into a neon-green interface (until I was able to dust off the manual to the system and create an automation script.)
The businesses didn’t need me… they needed the task, and in solving that task they were able to spend that money on their operations, specifically their employees. Giving employees back their time is one of the most “human-first” investments you can make.
New Opportunities Come Only After We Remove Old Ones
Like the fortune cookie says, “You can’t start something without finishing something.” Everything we automate takes away something we no longer need to do. That frees us up to educate ourselves on what new jobs there are.
And with increasing educational requirements to enter a job (along with the prevalence of online resources for said education) nearly anyone 18+ year-old is encountering an “entry-job”-level’s worth of responsibility.
With the rise of the Internet of Things, construction workers can now cross-train into drone-operators (which they’re already doing, by manually managing physical vehicles such as bulldozers, cranes, diggers, and other complex machinery.)
User Experience Is Your Friend
Not everyone is going to self-educate or go into continuing education. But with easier systems to interface with, from smart-phones to smart-fridges, new employees in an automated environment have a new “entry-level” expectation: honing their EQ on getting things done instead of their fingers.
It’s not only experiences that are going to improve our relationship with automation. Remote-only cultures are emerging that allow anyone to work from home (or across the globe.) The transition from a physical interface to a virtual one (managing remotely) is a short leap away for the next generation of employees.
Automation Is Also Collaboration
You could propose that the future of automation means “dividends” for the “shareholders” of a business (or country) that has invested in it… and we can all enjoy a “Wall-E” level of comfort, having the robots do our original work.
But I like to think that the relationship between man and machine is symbiotic: while we ask them to automate our low-order work (and eventually higher-and-higher levels), our new role is to caretake their operation (making sure those kiosks operate) and how, where and why to automate next.
As companies increase in profits, they have to defend against new incumbents, with all sides investing in research and technology to innovate in the core domain.
That’s a pretty abstract way to say if a company can research and discover an edge to outperform their competitors, they naturally will achieve better results.
A major, emergent result of that research is automated tasks and insights, in both the digital and physical space based on the service of their employees and their relationship with their users.
As a result, employees are riding the wave of these innovations by collaborating with automated experiences, both determining the tasks they no longer need to take on and dictating where their free time can be spent in guiding these companies.
The Past Portends The Future
Humanity created advances and were concerned we would out-innovate ourselves from our lives, from elevators (where are Bell Hops?), to washing machines, and more. But people are working harder than ever, some with two or three jobs simultaneously.
If you take a look throughout history, examples of innovation causing unemployment exist. Think about the stagecoach, which disappeared (except from Central Park) when it was replaced with automative alternatives (i.e. railways, cars, bicycles, etc.).
Even though our stagecoach operators lost their jobs, they adapted and learned a new skill-set. Railways, not cars, were the major technical innovation that replaced the horse-and-buggy.
This even applies today in the workplace, in the form of truck-driving, which is currently undergoing significant automation research. But primarily it will be handled remotely by workers, who can handle city-driving, and then automate highway and cross-country drives.
Think of the age-old question of Brain vs. Brawn: mental agility vs. physical strength. In this scenario, you need both to be successful. Automation is the Brawn, but we still need the Brain — the human ingenuity, creativity, and thousands of years of evolved decision-making — to interface with these augmented systems.
Unknown Isn’t Immediately Unwelcome
Besides, Technology Review recently found that by looking at several studies on this issue, there wasn’t a consensus on what automation will do to jobs, or, as they put it “there are about as many opinions as there are experts.”
But what’s indisputable is that when both work together — machine & human — you’ll increase profits for the organization and create a prosperous work setting.
We should embrace what automation can do for our companies so we can all get to the future faster.