The Future of Work.

I am sure a lot of you felt cheated by all those math teachers who told you that you would never have a calculator in your pocket when you got your first Smartphone. Yet, I am also sure most of you would also say that just because you have a calculator, that does not make the job of a math teacher obsolete. There are many questions the majority of calculators cannot answer, like the number’s significance or what to do with those numbers next.

With the growth in advanced technologies comes growth in demand for all technological skills. Not only will we see a substantial need for advanced IT and programming skills, we will also see the need for basic technological skills with automation and AI introduced into the workforce. Advanced technologies are used across industries, making the need to develop technological skills virtually unavoidable to be successful in one’s occupation. Some are skeptical to accept the need for automated technology in their roles and view these technological advancements as threats to their jobs.

Facing the Fear of an AI Take Over

The fear that machines will be taking over jobs is not without merit. The world we have grown to know would not exist in its current form without the jobs that have structured it. Many of these jobs involve repetitive and routine tasks and, though these tasks may not be the worker’s main role,  they do usually take up enough time and energy to be one of the main job qualifications listed on job boards. 

Technology’s advancements have made it so these routine tasks can be carried out by machines, eliminating the need for humans to complete the work. Some view this as machines overtaking jobs completely, creating anxiety around income, job security, and sense of achievement. People fear that if machines replace their current jobs, they may be unable to find new jobs to support themselves and their families. On top of this, people fear that if these jobs are lost, they lose their purpose in society.

However, what is often overlooked is the opportunity the automation of these tasks provides to the workforce. Now that time has been freed up with the assistance of machines, people can focus more on the roles of their jobs that involve higher cognitive skills and creativity. Machines cannot replace the critical thinking and processing skills that are innately human. Eliminating these superfluous tasks from jobs and allowing individuals to focus on the tasks that are labeled as more useful or impactful can provide intrinsic motivation and create a sense of competence. This is basically just a long-winded way of saying people like to feel useful so they feel better about themselves when they see their job as useful, making them want to work harder in that job. It is important to recognize that technology in the workplace is not meant to replace our jobs but supplement them. Therefore, shifting our focus from machines taking our jobs to take over some tasks. Jobs are generally made up of a series of tasks; some with basic skills that are easy to automate, some that require more complex skills and high-order processing.

The automation of these tasks presents more opportunities than threats to the workforce; an opportunity to advance and hone the skills that are unique to humans. Social and emotional skills are now considered to be important qualifications of a successful applicant, with the need for empathy and advanced communication skills across industries. There are just some jobs that involve a deeper understanding of social and emotional intelligence that you don’t want a robot doing, like obituary writing…

Embracing AI

Embracing that technology may be better or at least equally capable of performing the routine tasks of our jobs provides humans with the opportunity to explore other abilities and interests; ones that machines are not capable of performing. This opportunity aligns with the projected emerging need in the workforce. We are beginning to see a shift in need of workers with higher cognitive skills, such as decision-making, complex information processing, creativity and critical thinking, away from tasks that require basic cognitive skills, such as ones that machines are able to perform. Work activities that require only basic cognitive skills are projected to decline, but it is anticipated that the greater need for higher cognitive skills will help to create more jobs and higher degrees of proficiency in their roles.  Not only are machines not taking our jobs, but they are also providing opportunities for more jobs and job growth.

The willingness and readiness to adopt automation and AI in the workforce will result in a happy marriage between humans and machines, leading to greater productivity and granting workers the ability to harness their talents.

However, like most marriages, the union between workers and machines does not come without its troubles. Many are reluctant to adopt and adapt to these new technologies, so even though they can optimize their time performing more complex tasks, they will refuse to embrace or even adapt these technological advances. This unwillingness will ultimately lead to failure to keep up with their competition who took the time to train their employees on the proper uses of the technology and optimize their time. So even though robots may not be taking our jobs, they may become a source of job loss for those who refuse to accept this new age of automation.