Technology destroys jobs. Technology creates jobs. Economists and politicians have been arguing for years: is technology a blessing or a curse for working people?
Depends which side you stand on, doesn’t it? If you’re working in IT, robotics, or for Google, the future looks great. If you’re a former assembly-line worker or coal miner, not so much. From this gap arises much of the division and resentment in our politics and conversation.
Actually, technology does both: it creates jobs and destroys them, too. The question is, does it create jobs faster than it destroys them? “How Technology is Destroying Jobs” appeared as a story in the MIT Technology Review in 2013. The author presents arguments for both sides, but concludes that, in the long run, mid-range jobs are going away. The tech-savvy are growing their incomes. Meanwhile, many non-tech jobs – not just in factories, but white-collar professional careers such as accounting, retailing, etc. – are vanishing. “Someone who creates a computer program to automate tax preparation might earn millions or billions of dollars while eliminating the need for countless accountants. New technologies are encroaching into human skills in a way that is completely unprecedented. The middle seems to be going away. The top and bottom are clearly getting farther apart.”
All sorts of solutions have been proposed to solve this. At the top of most lists are better education and training. But many people – my husband included – retrained several times for several careers, and still found themselves regularly unemployed, as one job area after another folded or yielded to automation.
Can a laid-off factory worker develop a new career as a software engineer? Should a printing press operator whose job has been automated become a home-care worker for the elderly? Who will re-train these people, and pay for their retraining? How often can a person be expected to retrain in one lifetime? Is endless workforce training really a solution?
Timesizing® suggests that we can help the workforce adjust to imbalances in skills and demand by adjusting the workweek. In future columns we’ll look at job and economic news from a Timesizing viewpoint, and explore the experiences of people working in this new economy.