More on the Impact of Technology on Jobs and Work

Technological unemployment

The initial fear with new technology is that it will have a negative impact on jobs and way of life. Some recent examples of technological changes,
- when organisations first installed computers and robots (1960s)
- introduction of ATMs (1970s)
- when PCs were introduced (1980s)
- start of e-commerce (1990s)

On all these occasions, there was widespread fear that automation would result in job losses. Even if there were some short-term job losses, these are more likely to be offset by the creation of new jobs in the long term. However, there can be a traumatic transition, like in the Industrial Revolution, with the shift in population from rural to urban areas and lack of welfare systems.

In recent times the transitions, mostly technological, are faster but the income inequalities can rise with highly skilled-workers benefiting disproportionately when technology complements their jobs. This poses challenges for organisations and governments, ie

- how existing workers acquire new skills (focus on lifelong learning and on-the-job training plus wider use of on-line learning and video game-style simulation; development of emotional intelligence skills (for more details see elsewhere in the Knowledge Base) are needed; both training and the welfare system (benefits, pensions and health care, etc) need to be able to handle a smooth transition like Denmark's 'flexicurity' which allows organisations to hire and fire easily, while supporting unemployed workers as they retrain and seek new jobs)

- how to prepare future generations for the changes (need to move away from the factory-like school education system to a more informal one using on-line learning and video game-style simulation, etc; encouraging the development of emotional intelligence skills (for more details see elsewhere in the Knowledge Base)
NB as John Stuart Mill wrote in the 1840s
"...there cannot be a more legitimate objective of legislator's care than looking after those whose livelihoods are disrupted by technology. That was true in the era of the steam engine and it remains true in the era of artificial intelligence..."
Economist, 2016b

Need to bear in mind, with technology
"...Just because these things can be done by engineers in controlled environments, it doesn't mean they are going to become widespread..."

Jim Stanford as quoted by James Dunn, 2017

Much work has to go into translating research results into the real world context.

Technology advances can result in fewer jobs in certain areas, but can also create more jobs in other areas, ie
"...If we look at history there have been previous periods of very wide ranging technological change that didn't necessarily cause mass unemployment. If the technologies tend to spur stronger business investment, then you have a chance of growing jobs from them. All these technologies have provided new work - yes, they do displace some jobs, but they create other jobs. Jobs are required to operate, develop, manufacture and maintain the new machinery, they involve doing things they weren't possible before the machinery was invented..."
Jim Stanford as quoted by James Dunn, 2017

Both skilled and unskilled jobs can be impacted. Unskilled jobs like cleaning, assembly lines, etc are impacted. Also,
"...certain jobs and occupations will be turned upside down by technology......there is a lot of traditionally higher-knowledge, higher status jobs where the risks of automation are quite severe - for example, lawyers, accountants, engineers and geologists..."
Jim Stanford as quoted by James Dunn, 2017

No areas of the economy (including professions) are free from disruption. For example, accountants who have seen automation, outsourcing and off-shoring of their work, ie
"...Basic tax compliance and data entry tasks have been automated and streamlined by cloud software, apps and data mining..."
James Dunn, 2017

Thus accountants have had to move up the service value chain, to perhaps financial planning. This involves a different mindset as accounting is focused on the past and financial planning is looking to the future. It is expected that jobs that will be continue to be created are those that are more service-orientated like human and caring services, such as health care and social services, education and public administration. It is anticipated that around half of all jobs in the next five years will be public services. this includes the more hands-on type of work.

The gig economy is providing more flexibility and economy in a world where permanent, full-time jobs are becoming less common.

Remote working

Technology, especially the Internet, is allowing us more flexibility in where we work. Remote working, like home working, is on the increase and has been accelerated by the pandemic (starting in 2020).

On the other hand, some challenges face remote working:

- we are social animals who value face-to-face contact when communicating, ie the power of presence or mere exposure effect (we tend to gravitate to what is familiar, ie  we like people whose faces are familiar)

NB Body language is important in the communications (for more details, see other sections in the knowledge base)

There is also some research that shows that the further apart desks are in an office, the less likely people are to communicate
"...at the 30 m mark, the likelihood of regular communication approaches zero..."
Thomas Allen as quoted by Jerry Useem, 2017

- networking and informal exchanges, such as around the water cooler or coffee machine, are easier in the office

- working longer hours than office-bound counterparts

- conflict between requirements of work and private life, if working from home

- productivity gains are debatable as it depends on what type of productivity, ie

    i) personal productivity, eg the number of sales closed or customer complaints handled.

    Research suggests it is probably best to let people work where and when they want. The type and frequency of interaction required also influences outcomes, eg with clients and/or colleagues.

    ii) collaborative efficiency, ie the speed at which a group successfully solves a problem. Face-to-face is the fastest and most effective way of communicating, especially as you can read body language.

    NB Collaboration requires communications, both technical and non-technical
"...electronic communication technologies......are cheap and instantaneous, but in terms of person-powers, they are actually expensive and slow. E-mail, where everything must be literally spelled-out is probably the worst. The telephone is better. Video conferencing, which gives you not just inflection but expression, is better still..."
Jerry Useem, 2017

It has also been shown that people working in the same office will communicate more electronically than those in different locations.

Another approach involved a concept called radical collocation, ie maximising peripheral awareness of what others are doing in the same office. This resulted in teams significantly reducing time spent solving challenges.

"...To-day.......business is more like a series of emergencies...... you diagnose a problem, deliver a quick and dirty solution, get feedback, course-correct, and repeat..."
Jerry Useem, 2017

This is what the agile concept is about (for more detail, see elsewhere in this knowledge base).

 

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