23rd September 2019

Automation: the surprising job creator

automation

With automation progressing at such a rate over the last 25 years or so, it’s hardly surprising  one popular theory is that it’ll gobble up thousands of jobs currently being performed by humans, and eventually leave millions of people stuck on the scrapheap unable to compete with their mechanical counterparts.

Robots are taking over…

It is true to say automation and AI have taken over many jobs from humans during this digital revolution, particularly in areas where there’s lots of repetitive work, like factory production, till operators and, maybe more surprisingly, cinema projectionists. This pattern is set to continue, with one report from  Oxford Economics going as far as suggesting that robots could take over 20 million jobs worldwide by 2030.

… but humans are fighting back

However, it’s also true to say automation has created jobs too. And will keep doing so. One benefit of automation is that it can lower costs for particular processes, which means you can hire more humans to do other jobs a machine can’t yet do, known as ‘displacement’.  This was exactly what happened with the launch of ATMs in banks.

Radical developments

Machines that give us money whenever we want are fairly new inventions of course. But going further back in history, you can find many examples of how automation has created jobs and improved output. Steam power and electricity were seen as radical when they were first used, and many feared for the future of agricultural and industrial jobs.

A change for the good

What actually happened after the industrial revolution was the opposite. The ‘productivity effect’ meant that jobs were created for factory workers to produce automobiles rather than ploughing fields, and motels and petrol stations sprung up in later years to meet the demands of drivers.

What automation did – and will continue to do – is change the way things worked for the better. Workers lives became safer and they were able to earn more as they did more complicated jobs.

New skills in demand

There’s another way automation is creating jobs we need to mention too. Tech companies who design and build automation software and hardware are increasing their workforce, as demand for their skills and services grow. AI, in particular is huge, with networking-platform LinkedIn reporting a 190% increase in users putting this as a skill on their profiles between 2015 and 2017.

And what about app developers, data scientists and social media managers? These job titles didn’t exist fifteen or twenty years’ ago. They wouldn’t be here at all without automation and AI. Many more new titles will appear in the near future too.

The big boys are in on the act

Huge players like Google and Facebook also need thousands of people to monitor and moderate content posted by their users, and these numbers are likely to keep increasing as they continue to grow and new platforms emerge.

Time to think differently

So, maybe we need to change our opinion of automation and celebrate it as something good for employment and future growth. Evidence suggests that companies who adopt and embrace automation are experiencing greater expansion than those who aren’t.

Automation really is the surprising job creator.