Some Thoughts on the Future of Employment
Self-driving trucks and cars. Cashiers being replaced by machines. Bank tellers being replaced by ATMs and video terminals. Online purchases are increasing. But workers continue to find work. However, the jobs are in service.
Taking care of the aged has become by far the largest driver of job growth in the American economy. Physical therapy assistant, home health aide, occupational therapy aide and physician assistant are among the occupations the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to grow most rapidly over the next decade. Nine of the 12 fastest-growing fields are different ways of saying "nursing."
In 1950, service work comprised about 40 percent of working-class labor in the U.S. By 2005, that share climbed to 56 percent, according to data from a 2013 analysis by economists at MIT and the University of Zurich. The available evidence suggests this trend has been continuing very rapidly over the past decade, increasing the share of American workers who work in service industries.
These jobs are difficult to mechanize in order to perform with greater efficiency. People have an emotional investment in seeing this caring work performed by people rather than machines. And we're willing to pay for a personal touch.
Consider the work of a security guard who is tasked with sounding the alarm if something doesn't seem right. Technology improves security, but it's not easy to write a formula approximating intuition.
But workers should be warned about poverty in the midst of abundance. Personal-service providers tend to be poorly paid. There is little job security, the benefits are often meager and the work is physically demanding and emotionally draining.
What's next at your company?
How does this affect your company? You have to keep in mind your own needs in the context of how your industry will be growing and changing, and what kind of pool of applicants will be available if you have to hire more staff.
Will your business face automation in the future? Or will it be one of the businesses that will grow because it's immune to automation. If the latter, will you have to work with your staff to make sure your employees get additional training to keep up with technology? (Decades ago, the printing industry endured a major upheaval when countless well-trained linotype operators found themselves masters of a suddenly obsolete machine.) The hard part is figuring out what to train people in — computer skills that were in vogue in the 1990s have gone in and out of style, for example, to India and Ireland in this case.
How flexible are your employees? The idea that people can be endlessly malleable and ready to re-create themselves to accommodate every change in the job market is probably not realistic and certainly not respectful of their existing skills.
What can, what should, you be doing? You can take care of your company:
- Keep an eye on training programs.
- Work closely with other departments on long-term strategic planning.
- If it's possible automation will mean a reduction in staff, even if the company is doing well, you may have to plan for a potential well-ordered layoff.
- Consider how not just your company but your sector will be doing in the overall economy.
Be sure to call on us if we can help you with human resource, payroll and/or benefits issues in this difficult and changing time.