One of the common worries about the internet of things and the automation of business processes is that many jobs are going to be lost as a consequence.
This is a fair concern however we need to keep in perspective just how radically employment has changed in the last century.
Concerns about technology displacing occupations is nothing new; in the eighteenth century the Luddite movement was a reaction to skilled workers being displaced by new innovations.
In an interview with GE’s Chief Economist Marco Annunziata, published in Business Spectator, we covered this topic and Marco had a valid point that the bulk of the Western world’s workforce was employed in agriculture a hundred years ago.
Today it’s less than two percent in most developed country as agriculture became heavily automated, yet most of those workers who would once have worked in the fields have productive jobs. “As an economist I look at this over a long term perspective and I’ve heard this concern about technology displacing jobs over and over again.”
Annunziata sees new roles being created, among them what he calls ‘mechanical-digital engineers’ who understand both how the actual machines work as well as the data and the software used to run and monitor them.
This isn’t to say there won’t be massive disruption – John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath described the massive dislocation that happened in the United States with the first wave of agricultural mechanisation in the 1920s and the decline in rural communities is due directly to modern farms not needing the large workforces that sustained many country towns.
We can’t see where the jobs of the future will be and just roles like as Search Engine Optimisation and ecommerce experts where unheard of twenty years ago, our kids will be working in occupations we haven’t contemplated.
It’s up to us to give our kids the skills and flexibility of thinking that will let them find opportunities in a very different workplace.