Will automation reduce jobs for human workers? A new study says it’s more complicated than that.
First, companies that embrace automation become more productive and grow. That means they hire more workers. It doesn’t happen immediately, but it happens consistently, according to one of the most comprehensive studies on the subject yet attempted. It’s the firms that resist automation which suffer — and therefor end up hiring fewer workers.
Some workers are threatened
The study found that entry-level jobs increased at firms that automated. They were more productive, they flourished, and they hired more low-skilled workers for the jobs that still need to be done by humans.
High-level jobs also increased. Engineers and other workers involved in innovation were also needed in larger numbers.
Who lost their jobs? Managers.
Managing low-level workers didn’t require more workers. That type of job also benefited from the increase in productivity. Especially since new automation collects and aggregates data on its own and predicts its need for maintenance, automated factories need fewer managers to do that kind of work.
Increased automation also makes work safer, again reducing the need for close oversight of work by managers.
As for the high-level workers, they need leadership rather than supervision. The two ends of the spectrum have different needs when it comes to management.
A big change in career paths
One of the consequences, the study found, was that the old school career path is being lost.
Workers can’t come in at an entry level and work their way up to management. Managers who keep their jobs have less opportunity to move up. There’s less of a career ladder to climb, so workers have to move laterally — to other companies, instead of upwards in their current company.
Employers may be able to keep workers on with training programs, but not every low level worker will be able to become a high level worker, even with training.
The result: upheaval in industry.
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