Every so often I like to take a step back and examine some of the megatrends that continually come up in conversation with guests from across various industries. This is one of those weeks, and Artificial Intelligence is one of those pervasive topics that has crossed industry lines throughout the history of our show. It is changing everything, and I’m not so sure we are ready for those changes. But, we can be.
This week, I look at the workers being displaced by AI, and how we as leaders in the midmarket can take steps to make the continuing transition to automation better for our human workforce.
Know Where Artificial Intelligence is Already Making Changes
We have talked about AI on a number of episodes of CEO Exclusive. Below are a few of those articles and some of the changes AI is making in each industry.
Long-Haul Trucking. This isn’t one of my articles, but it’s a good one. Here, The New York Times talks about the timeline until the inevitable happens, and long-haul truck drivers are replaced by self-driving trucks. Not only will this put truckers out of work, but it will have a large effect on the trucker service industries. Truck stops, food service, and trucker targeted retail will all take major hits.
Lawncare. With Roomba-style self-driving mowers, the lawncare industry is likely to greatly decrease the human input to its daily operations in the not too distant future. Within a few years a team that currently consists of five people running mowers will instead consist of 5 self-driving mowers and one person to oversee the process. The truck may even drive itself to the job site.
Staffing. “Artificial intelligence is the technology most likely to disrupt recruiting in the near future. Instead of having a human process each resume in a talent search, new ‘digital recruiters’ are using machine learning, neuro-linguistic programming, and other algorithms to perform the initial screening, leaving people to review a narrower field of pre-qualified candidates.”
Publishing. C.W. Henderson, President and Founder of NewsRx was able to replace his entire writing and editing staff with artificial intelligence, producing articles that you would never know were written by a computer. Henderson says his former employees were able to find good jobs in the industry – but what will happen when the scale of AI replacements increases? Will there be enough jobs?
Accounting. As with many other industries, many of the entry level jobs in accounting and tax preparation will become increasingly automated. More experienced workers will continue to oversee the computers for quite some time – but how will they gain the experience with the entry level jobs gone? The key here is to find ways to educate workers so that they can gain experience needed to perform the high-level tasks that will be needed in the financial consulting industry.
Learn to Predict Possible Impacts and Prepare
Nothing with this magnitude has occurred since the Industrial Revolution, when old ways of doing things were completely altered and new skills were needed to support the immense changes taking place in industry.
But we made it, right? New skills were learned, the economy flourished, and overall quality of life improved. But here’s the thing- that change took place over two or three generations (giving people more than enough time to make the mental, emotional, and technical adjustment needed), and this one is likely to take place over just a few years. These changes are happening with a velocity that’s never been seen before.
The technology to make changes is already in place in many of the industries mentioned above, and as soon as it makes financial sense to implement those changes, the changes will be made. And it will have impacts. This article in USA Today states that over 73 million jobs may be taken over by automation by 2030. About 20 million of those workers will likely be able to shift to similar jobs, leaving 16 to 45 million workers that need to be retrained for entirely new professions. According to the USA Today article, “Governments and businesses already have fallen short in the retraining of workers who lost jobs in the recession of 2007 to 2009.” How will we manage the flood of workers who need new careers?
The article suggests that the “dire predictions” that jobs will be taken by robots is overstated. I’m not so sure that’s the case. What the article misses, as well as many of the analysts I’ve spoken to, is the human factor in those changes.
Yes, there will be new jobs created by increased technology and possible increased consumption, but those new jobs will exist in extremely different skill sets than those that are being lost. Retraining a workforce takes time, and doesn’t usually pay well. Even to earn a trade certificate or associate’s degree it takes about two full-time years, and the average American doesn’t have that kind of savings stocked away. Without preparation for the change, the results on displaced workers will be catastrophic.
The trucking industry currently employs approximately 3 million drivers between the ages of 20 and 40. When the trucking industry goes to driverless vehicles, that will leave these drivers out of work and in need of new skill sets. Some may be employed as short distance truckers, driving the final intra city legs of cross country journeys – but many will need new skills.
Another side effect of automation may be to increase the gap between the wealthy and those with a low income. Many lower income jobs will not be automated because it simply doesn’t make financial sense. Many higher income, highly skilled jobs will remain safe as well. Most of the jobs that will be lost will come from the middle class, creating a greater rift between classes in the U.S.
This transition is going to be traumatic for the displaced workers, plain and simple. It is up to us as leaders in the midmarket to find ways to support our workforce through these changes.Are you and your employees ready for the Automation Revolution? Click To Tweet
Be a Leader
I can’t state strongly enough that I believe this could be a full-scale crisis for our workers and for our economy – but it doesn’t have to be. If we start conversations now, and continually look for solutions, we can find a path that will make the transition easier for the workers who are displaced.
As automation becomes widespread, a significant portion of the entry level jobs that we are familiar with will be replaced by automation. We need to look for ways to train new workers in skills they will need later in their career. And mid-career and white-collar workers aren’t safe either. If you know that you will be replacing workers with automation in the near future, look for ways to retrain your workers now, while they are still employed. It might not benefit you directly, but it will benefit our economy, not to mention individuals and families who have built your company.
In the midmarket especially, we are the ones who are at the forefront of making these technological changes. We are the ones will see great increases in productivity from the coming Automation Revolution. It is our responsibility to wrestle with the hard questions. It’s our responsibility to prepare and nurture our workers (and our country) through the coming storm.