Back in the 1900s, most of America had its workforce on farms and just enough food was produced to feed a far less populous nation. Now, less than 2 percent of Americans work on farms, because technology has revolutionized the sector. Automation has taken over.
The same applies to plenty of sectors these days, particularly when manual labor is involved. Now, a new study has laid this reality bare. According to a study by management consultancy firm McKinsey, up to one-third of the American workforce (73 million people) may lose their jobs to automation by 2030.
In total, up to 800 million people around the world will find themselves out of work thanks to the advances of robotics. The wealthiest nations in the world are most at risk here.
Most countries affected will be able to replace the jobs that are lost, but it will take considerable effort. At least 375 million of those affected – about 14 percent of the planet’s workforce – will have to seek employment in completely different sectors.
The researchers point out that it’s not just unemployment that’s a concern here. Those lucky enough to still be working will have to adapt and evolve to make sure they’re still relevant “alongside increasingly capable machines.”
“Some of that adaptation will require higher educational attainment, or spending more time on activities that require social and emotional skills, creativity, high-level cognitive capabilities and other skills relatively hard to automate,” the report explains.
This study, if anything, points out the inevitability of societal progress.
As science and technology become more advanced, they also become more available, and the way society operates changes. Just a brief look at the history of medicine, of physics, of engineering will clearly show that, barring an utter catastrophe, we’re all moving towards the future – albeit not at the same pace.
The authors of the study explain that the proliferation of automation will “generate significant benefits for users, businesses, and economies, lifting productivity and economic growth.” They add that “it will create new occupations that do not exist today, much as technologies of the past have done.”
There’s no point in fighting this generally positive change, but this report does suggest that this contentious debate needs revisiting, and quickly.
In much the same way that those in the dying coal industry could be given retraining to work in clean energy, those losing their jobs to machines should be trained up to be in charge of the automation to some degree – or at least be given a decent chance to switch careers.
Either way, they’ll clearly need plenty of help, and that’s the key issue here.
A lot of resentment follows on from unemployment, and it’s often misdirected or manipulated. If this issue isn’t given more attention, the future will be infused with rage.