dwindling jobs

In Only Humans Need Apply, the authors note that one phenomenon of machine automation and augmentation is a decrease in entry-level jobs.

“We seem to have automated away the first few rungs of the traditional career ladder. In automating the routinized work that people used to cut their teeth on, they have also eliminated the means to pick up ‘soft skills’ to be effective with customers and within a large organization … In order to enter step-in jobs at early levels in their careers, students will need to acquire as much knowledge as they possibly can while in school, and as much on-the-job training while in internships.”

Tom Graves, in — Where have all the good jobs gone? — digs deeper into this phenomenon in a recent blog post.

“But as machines and IT-systems take on more and more of the routine rule-based and analytic decisions – the ‘easily repeatable processes’, the ‘automatable’ aspects of business – a key side-effect is, almost by definition, that the skill-levels needed to resolve the ‘non-automatable’ decisions will increase … To put it the other way round, the machines do all of the easy work, and (usually) do it well: but that means that all the hard work is left to the humans.”

As workplaces keep moving toward greater efficiencies, entry-level work will decrease while the demand for highly skilled work will increase. Perhaps there will be a market for entry-level skill development, using simulation. Given how few organizations commit to skill development we will likely see increases in unemployment for semi-skilled workers.

The digital divide will now combine with the skill divide to further split society. Based on recent history it is unlikely companies will step up, so that leaves governments, many of whom have subsidized universities. Academia has mostly divorced learning from skill development, leaving many graduates as really smart unskilled workers. Without an opportunity to learn on the job even a university degree may not guarantee employment.

The pandemic has only worsened the prospect of finding an entry-level job.

“Around the world, young people armed with new degrees, diplomas and professional qualifications are struggling to enter the workforce as the pandemic pushes the global economy into recession. COVID-19 has thwarted hopes of landing first jobs — important for jump starting careers — as employers cut back graduate recruiting plans or even revoke job offers.” —CBC 2020-08-10

From routine jobs doing production work, to innovative jobs doing thinking work, we are seeing a shift in the nature of  jobs and work. The challenge for society is to put in place support systems for those people trained from a 20th century perspective and not prepared for the reality of this century.

Perhaps the most important question we should ask, is whether we need jobs at all.

“Without a new social compact through which to distribute the potential bounty of the digital age, competition with our machines is a losing proposition. Most jobs as we currently understand them are repetitive enough to be approached computationally. Even brain surgery is, in most respects, a mechanical task with a limited number of novel scenarios.

While we humans can eventually shift, en masse, to ‘high-touch’ occupations like nursing, teaching, psychology, or the arts, the readiness of machines to replace human labor should force us to reevaluate the whole premise of having jobs in the first place.” —Douglas Rushkoff 2020

changing nature of jobs and work

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