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Examining the relationship between automation and job creation

Oct. 26, 2022
A look at how automation is impacting job creation

As someone who recently changed jobs, I’ve been quite fascinated by the post-pandemic trend that's seen many workers move from one position to another. At the same time, I began, as part of my new position, following developments in process control and automation much more attentively. So, it was a natural development that my curiosity about the intersection of automation and careers would be piqued.

I’m not the first, of course. The notion (or fears of some) of jobs becoming automated has been around for decades. Heck, I bet many of us know people who still refuse to use the self-checkout line at the grocery store due to their insistence that those machines take away jobs from cashiers. But the cashier example is a simple, yet easily recognizable automation experience familiar to lay people. Of course, as technology advances, positions are retrained for the new type of work. What’s a more productive use of those positions when it comes a business’ bottom line?

Productivity and the bottom line are the main drivers of automated systems. But worrying about the collateral damage as artificial intelligence and robotics advance is a legitimate concern. Some workers will be displaced along the way.

My curiosity over potentially automated jobs and fears of job losses led me to what I do best, reading. Among my research, I came across a blog written by Henry J. Holzer, a non-resident senior fellow of economic studies and professor of public policy at Georgetown University. His blog, published by The Brookings Institute, a non-profit public policy center in Washington, D.C., seeks to explain the impact of automation on workers, jobs and wages. One conclusion in his studies is that, “Workers who can complement the new automation, and perform tasks beyond the abilities of machines, often enjoy rising compensation.”

So that’s the good news, opportunities for advancement still abound. The other side of the coin is “the 'new automation' of the next few decades—with much more advanced robotics and artificial intelligence—will widen the range of tasks and jobs that machines can perform, and have the potential to cause much more worker displacement and inequality than older generations of automation,” according to Holzer.

So, while control engineering know-how increases over the next several decades, inequities in job markets are sure to develop as technology advances. Retail workers, like the cashiers I mentioned earlier, will indeed face a tougher time in the job market, as will some healthcare positions, lawyers, accountants and financial specialists, according to the study.

Meanwhile, automation may be less of a cause for workers leaving their jobs, at least for right now, according to an article published in Wired in May. The article asks the question many want to know, will robots automate away the jobs of the millennial and Gen Z generations, or could technology improve workers’ jobs and help firms attract more enthusiastic employees? The answer depends on what’s technologically feasible.

As the article points out, “technology adoption will continue to increase, whether America can equitably distribute the technological benefits or not.” It goes on to point out, “While some scholars believe that our fates are predetermined by the technologies themselves, emerging evidence indicates that we may have considerable influence over how such machines are employed within our factories and offices—if we can only figure out how to wield this power.”

While the answers to how we utilize emerging technology to fulfill our productivity needs, which as stated earlier are fueled by the bottom line, are yet to be determined, the interaction between automated jobs and human workers is something to watch. How federal and local policy is developed to balance the distribution of those technological benefits just may be the key to how the technology is deployed in the future. 

About the Author

Len Vermillion | Editor in Chief

Len Vermillion is editor-in-chief of Control. 

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