Robots and the Future of Work

Technology has transformed work, workers, and the workplace since early times. But the degree and pace of technological change has accelerated. It’s happening in Ashtabula County and every place else. But listen in …

Advances in robotics and automation technology have eliminated many jobs, but the rapid pace of innovation may create social unrest as more and more workers are deemed redundant, predicts Vivek Wadhwa of Princeton University (VentureBeat). He cautions that governments will not be able to create the jobs or slow down this progress. They can barely keep up with the advances that are happening in technology, let alone develop economic policies for employment…How are policy makers going to grapple with entire industries’ disruptions in periods that are shorter than election cycles?

Not so fast, says Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution. Muro found that between 1996 and 2012,industrialized countries that used more robots actually lost fewer manufacturing jobs. Germany uses more than three times the industrial robots than the United States and only lost 19 percent of its manufacturing jobs, compared to a 33 percent decline in the United States. Muro contends that “Industrial robots are a disruptive technology, and as disruptive technologies take hold some workers benefit while others are hurt. But to suggest…that the use of robots is a causal factor in the decline of American manufacturing employment is factually wrong.”

The problem with robots is not that they replace workers but rather displace them (The Atlantic). The faster the pace of innovation, the harder it is to find employees with the appropriate skills to fill previously unimagined jobs. This is all bad news for wages:

Technology-induced unemployment keeps the median wage stagnant. A large pool of unemployed workers competing for too few jobs drives wages down…wages are stagnant because it is difficult for many workers to acquire the new skills and labor markets do not fully compensate workers for those skills.

Educators, workforce developers, and their partners will need to be even more agile to prepare workers for jobs that don’t yet exist.

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