Will Robots Eliminate Jobs? Not If History Is Our Guide.

The three most pressing issues leaders have regarding robots are: (1) growing their technology capabilities and integrating robots into their workforces, (2) creating long-range plans for retraining their workforces for that workplace of the future, and (3) communicating clearly – right now – to the entire spectrum of stakeholders to ward off widespread fears that “robots will eliminate my job” and demoralize the workforce.

Will robots displace some workers? Bluntly, yes, from the long-haul truck driver to the hospital maintenance worker to the assembly line worker. But for every one of these workers whom robots replace, there will be newly skilled workers who will design, program, maintain, run, and service these robots, not to mention all the jobs created by the manufacturers who make them, sell them, and deliver and train us to use them.

Robots may taketh away, but they giveth, too.

Beyond that, robots will create jobs that we just can’t or shouldn’t fill with humans: dangerous or even impossible jobs like deep sea, high elevation, or space exploration; bomb detonation or land mine clearing; endangered species protection; battlefield combat and counterterrorism; search and rescue; mob control; hazardous materials handling; firefighting; mining; and, made painfully obvious by today’s pandemic, “hands on” treatment of large, highly contagious populations. Or jobs that will augment current ones done by people, like particularly difficult archeological digs (both on land and under the sea), and intricate, delicate microsurgery.

One down, two to go

All the above is given, agreed upon, and not new in this report, so the first of the three concerns for leaders is already in play. It’s the other two that need immediate attention.

Fear of robots eliminating jobs is understandable. If I drive a truck underground at a mining site and that truck is replaced by a self-driving one that goes deep underground to haul limestone through miles of tunnels to the surface, yes, I’m going to fear for my job. But while Volvo has these trucks in operation at a limestone mine in Sweden, mine workers are being – or already have been – retrained. They now work in tech roles, working above and not underground, in safer, better paying jobs.

Nothing new

There is history here, and plenty of it. In 1859, oil was discovered in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Instantly, chemists and factory workers producing whale oil to light our homes and streets panicked, as this threatened their livelihoods. However, one twenty-two-year old chemist didn’t panic; instead, he traveled from New York to Titusville (probably weeks in his horse and buggy) to have a look around. He saw a thick, jelly-like substance accumulating at the base of the wells, clogging production. But he also saw the oil workers use it to soothe their abrasions and burns, and that fueled his imagination. So he collected barrels of it and took them back to New York for experiments. That chemist, Robert Chesebrough, distilled it into what would become one of the most widely used health product in history: Vaseline Petroleum Jelly, and soon thereafter, he formed the Chesebrough-Ponds company. The few whale oil jobs that were lost were far outnumbered by the jobs created in the oil industry.

Hardly a half century later, businessmen in another small industry complained about new technology overtaking them. Buggy whip manufacturers were being put out of business by…the automobile. Once again, jobs were not eliminated, per se, they were moved. Those who got with the program didn’t suffer. Those who didn’t, did.

The biggest story, though, had not yet been told. Remember the first successful commercially marketed PC? It was the IBM 5150, debuting 40 years ago. Remember how everyone got all tied up in knots, thinking this thing would eliminate everyone’s job? Pretty funny, in retrospect, as 40 million jobs (probably more) have been created by the PC or PC-related technologies.

Same story, different day

Like oil, automobiles, and computers, robots will create far more jobs than they’ll eliminate. But what we’re talking about is millions of jobs that don’t exist today and jobs shifted by geography or profession. What we’re talking about, once again, is not job loss but job shift – and then growth. The net-net, though, will be a dramatic increase in numbers, not to mention quality, of jobs.

In short, robots will not only do things easier, faster, and more accurately than we can – think manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution – they will also be doing things humans just can’t or shouldn’t do – the dangerous or impossible tasks listed earlier.

Let’s not forget, this is not a report on technology; it’s about jobs – and where these jobs will be (not where they’ll be lost). Many prognosticators agree (I, too) that one quarter of all jobs in the American civilian labor force in 2025 don’t exist today. Doubtless, many of them will have something or everything to do with robots.

And there’s the leadership challenge.

Next Post

Take-charge teacher Eleanor Kraker was a driving force in northern Minnesota education

Mon Jan 11 , 2021
Eleanor E. Kraker had little in the way of support or school supplies when she started teaching in Gilbert, Minn., in the early 1940s. There wasn’t much of either to be had on the Iron Range at the time, with so much being rationed for the U.S. effort in World […]

You May Like