I was reading an article tonight about Amazon getting ready to hire 100,000 new employees between now and 2018 to work in its new stores. The downside was the news that of course relates to such a booming industry; stores like JC Penney and others are downsizing or shutting down stores by the hundreds, with one of the giants laying off a total of 8,000 employees when they recently shut down their entire nationwide chain due to the inability to compete with retail giants like Amazon.
If you follow the technical news, and I do so religiously, its almost impossible to miss the trends in other areas towards robotics; from Amazon admitting to wanting to add more robots to make things run smoother and faster to commercial trucking one day soon being completely overhauled with driverless vehicles. Then there is the inevitable trend, even in food-service industries to start adding robotic kiosks rather than pay higher wages.
As someone that grew up in an old-fashioned lifestyle but made his career in the high-tech world we live in today, it leaves me feeling juxtaposed between which side I want to be on. There’s really no reason I have to pick a side, but in the inevitable conversations that this kind of innovation sparks, I think most people will find themselves coming down on one side or the other.
When I read about Amazon hiring 100,000 people I pictured parking lots filled with cars and people working in high-tech factories on 8-12 hour shifts being gainfully employed. Then in the next sentence I read about JC Penney and I can’t help but picture a rotting husk of a once-busy mall, the stucco falling off in chunks and empty McDonalds wrappers floating around the parking lot before the inevitable demolition crew comes to tear it down. I’m left feeling… well I’m really not sure.
On the one hand it is probably true that by the time my kids have kids of their own and those children are eight to ten years old, there won’t likely be such things as strip malls where tons of retail stores are strategically placed next to each other in order to eke out the maximum dollar per customer possible. That also means that the days of walking around the mall for a couple hours to check out the interesting stores before going to see the movie in the cineplex will also be over. Will that be sad? Yes, I think so.
But the question really is – does that mean we should stop progress?
Do we cease working to become more efficient in order to propogate notions of bygone eras as if they were still relevant? I mean, sure, they’re relevant now, but they won’t likely be in ten years. My brother is a commercial truck driver. He staunchly says that it’ll never happen. I disagree. I think it will… actually, no. I absolutely know for a fact that it will happen. This isn’t something that can be debated. The industry is aggressively trying to go there. Within probably ten years there won’t likely be 10% of the commercial rigs being driven by humans in America that we have today. There also won’t be probably half as many human-driven passenger vehicles.
No, people like me won’t flock to whatever the new brand of Tesla might be to trade in our gas-guzzling trucks. We love our four-wheel-drive and that kind of “feeling” or “purpose” for buying a vehicle can’t be replicated behind a virtual dashboard. But look at my mother. She’s 66 and worries about driving at night. She wouldn’t voluntarily get into a computerized vehicle today and take a stroll to the mall, but when everyone else is doing it and it’s a way of life, there’s a very good possibility that she would. It would be like getting into your car to go somewhere is no different that getting on an Amtrak which is almost 100% computerized anyway. To take a trip out of town to see friends or family now means she has to ride with one of us, her sons, or drive during daylight hours only. But what if she could walk outside, get into her smart car, tell it where to go, and then safely and comfortably sit there in the seat and crochet her newest afghan for someone’s grandbaby and go wherever she wants whenever she wants? Wouldn’t she want to do that? And wouldn’t I, her son, want her to be able to have that kind of independence and not have to miss work to take her? Maybe…
What about people like me? I’m a techno-phile. My job and career completely depend on the internet and computer systems and even more importantly on the fact that most people don’t understand how to leverage them. I do. It’s what makes our business model work. You need something. People like me help you do it easier, or faster, or more cost-effectively, or all of those – through technology.
People don’t argue about technology until it becomes horribly scary to them. You don’t see accountants in today’s markets screaming about the death of pen-and-paper accounting methods. Ok my mom is an exception. She still does books by hand sometimes. But it would be totally impossible for companies like Walmart to even manage payroll without sophisticated accounting systems. Every copy of Quickbooks ever sold basically puts an accountant that much closer to being out of a job – and definitely negatively impacts the bookkeepers of the world.
Websites like Allrecipes.com surely make a dent in cooking classes in local community colleges or community programs. After all, why leave home or set aside time to do it when I can learn how to cook on the internet whenever I want, find great recipes, and even press one button to put all the ingredients in my online shopping cart. Then, with the click of a few buttons, I can add them all to my Amazon shopping list and tell Alexa to go order them.
I just saved myself a full day’s worth of work and groceries – a day I can spend working to earn more money to pay my family’s bills, or another day I can take off to go skiing with friends instead of slaving at the office. (That’s what I’m doing next weekend – thanks to technology.)
So, overall, for every single “automation/technology/computers puts my _____ out of a job” argument someone comes up with, I can come back with a way it improves life for someone else. You can’t call it bad just because you don’t like it or understand it. I mean you can, but it just makes you seem uninformed to those that actually ARE informed. But whatever floats your boat.
Even after all that, I have to admit I’m still left with the mental picture – some sepia-toned image in my mind of a small town as seen from a few hundred feet above. People are walking around aimlessly looking as if they have nothing to do, nowhere to be. They’re dressed in shabby clothes with a two-day beard. Mothers have bedraggled hair and are holding the hands of sniffling children. In my vision none of these people have jobs. If I pan my mind back, or up as it were, I can zoom in on more and more of this across the country.
As great as technology is, there’s no argument that the ultimate goals of technology from the inventive standpoint is to almost always make things more efficient, cheaper, safer, or faster. If you fast-forward to the logical conclusion the picture is scary to me. Making it more efficient directly translates to either doing more with less people, or covering more area with the same people; which directly correlates to some other people somewhere else not doing that same job.
Making things cheaper almost always focuses on reducing production costs which always means automation, which always means replacing people with protocols; which directly correlates to people not having jobs they used to have.
Making things safer is great, but it’s always done today by automation or sensors or computerized risk analysis, which will correlate into more data being aggregated and decided upon, which means more computing power for which more people is completely useless in analyzing, so it basically correlates to automated systems which means less people.
And finally there is the idea of making things faster to fill demand and prevent your competitor from gaining a foothold in your market. If you want faster then it can’t possibly be done with people. Humans will never be as efficient as machines designed to do the same task. Ipso-facto: here’s your pink slip.
So what would all these people DO? Really? Imagine our current country’s growth rate, which is on average about 1 percent per year. We currently have around 370 million people. In ten years we’ll likely have 3.7 million more, and we’ll have a net reality of less jobs then than now. Not everyone can be a millionaire inventor. There are very few Elon Musks in the world. And every single one of them like him make HUGE gains for technology, have some great ideas for improving life on this planet, and 100% of the time those kinds of innovations will result in less jobs because none of that can be realized with warm-blooded-bodies. Yes, those fields hire people to do things and the localized short-term job growth is great for the small town that just had all the construction labor come in for a huge solar farm, or a huge 100,000 acre facility. But then again you probably think those jobs are local don’t you? They’re not. Companies like that hire companies that are specialized – companies like mine- to come in from a thousand miles away because we already know how they like to do things, so we’ll do it faster and better than a crew that’s never built an XYZ plant for this customer. So that’s not really helping the locals there anyway, though it certainly does provide short-term project income to families… but its short term.
So what is America and indeed the world going to do when there are one-tenth of the jobs we have today available for them? Surely there will be all kinds of new job fields invented…. Will there?
For quick reference I did a Google search for jobs that didn’t even exist ten years ago. Take a look at what they are.
- Market Research Data Miner
- Admissions Consultant – somone that helps parents get their kids into the best schools.
- Millenial Generational Expert – No, I didn’t know that one existed either. Apparently it’s a person that helps the “regular” world understand how to adapt their processes and hiring practices towards attracting the snowflake generation into coming to work for them.
- Social Media Manager – simple enough. I do a lot of this for my own clients. It’s someone that helps media managers deploy social media to affect their bottom-line or visibility to markets.
- Chief Listening Officer – Yes… it exists. It’s basically someone that keeps a company up-to-date on what people are saying about their company across the world.
- Cloud Computing Services – I can totally relate. This is 90% of my career today.
- Elder Care – Thankfully here’s something reassuring. Thanks to the expected increase in living elderly people now and on the horizon, the market for specialized elder care has emerged to be there and provide for them through things like understanding complex healthcare systems and communicating end-of-life issues to the clients and family members. Sounds like a horrible job to have, but at least it involved PEOPLE and isn’t directly correlated to technology.
- User Experience Designer – What is user experience design? Quite simply, experiences created and shaped through technology and how to make them happen. Case in point: the experience of waking up to an alarm clock is very different from the experience created by the rising sun and chirping birds. A user experience designer’s concern is how to mimic the birds-sun experience through technology (see the variety of alarm clocks on the market that grow louder and brighter to wake you gently).
While all those are very interesting, ok so I yawned halfway through writing it too, they are almost solely created from the rise in technology. In fact you could probably argue that without Mark Zuckerberg, we might not even have half of those job fields.
Let’s face it though – of the eight jobs listed above (yesh I thought I had ten, but I stopped hunting at User Experience Designer to get the vomit out of my mouth and then gave up) I can’t think of more than maybe three that would likely be done by someone forty-plus years old or more. You couldn’t send most forty-year-olds to college today to learn to do those jobs. They just weren’t raised with the integrated understanding of the technology required to be competitive against the snowflakes that would be competing with them in the job market.
So where will we be in ten years?
Already in 2017, 100% of my music comes off the internet because I hate commercials. I occasionally try the radio, but then I hear two talking heads talking about something stupid or football or basketball or blah blah blah… “click” (that’s the sound of me pressing the button for Pandora).
97% of my media intake is either DVR or streamed online because I hate commercials. My wife will tell you – If we have three hours of programming we want to watch together tonight, and it starts at 8 PM, I will go do something else until 9 PM. All one-hour shows are actually about 41 minutes long with 20 minutes of the same stupid asinine commercials. If I wait until 9 PM, I can watch the same three hours of TV in 2 hours time that someone else would watch in three hours time. I even long ago memorized the remote control speed. A commercial comes on – and I press FWD three times, let it play for 7 seconds except for the mid-show commercial. That’s 8 seconds. Then press play. I fast-forward through 20 minutes of commercial crap in exactly about 40 seconds. I can spend the other time doing something else I’d enjoy more than watching old people talk about their IBS problems, herpes, bed sores, diarrhea, or some other prime-time crap advertising.
85% of my materials for customers is ordered online rather than local. It’s not that I dislike supporting local businesses. I’d love to support them. But if I pay $8.50 for something at a local store I have to mark it up to $10.50 to my customer to even make 20% profit. Let’s not forget that if I did that I’d have to compete much harder against other companies. When I need 1,000 of them the mere idea of supporting local business just cost my customer $2,000 extra. I can buy them online for $3.00 each from my manufacturers (who are still local businesses, just not local to me). Then I can sell them for $7.00 each, making myself 100% profit, still being lower than going to another local source, AND that extra revenue helps me buy tools and training to grow my staff. So I can either support local businesses by buying from them, or I can support local businesses by being smarter with my money and being able to give someone a job because of that. Which is evil? How about a data center job? That’s easily 10,000 cables and connections I’d have to run. At a net true loss of about $4.00 per jack retail, I’d have to mark up my invoice FORTY-THOUSAND-DOLLARS just to accomodate buying that ONE part local – not to mention there isn’t a local vendor ANYWHERE that can supply me ten-thousand of anything quickly. I can order it online and have it here in two days with no sales tax and no shipping charges. Either I just saved someone close to 50-grand, or I just made somewhere close to 50-grand. Either way, it takes an idiot not to do what saves you or your customer money.
There’s absolutely nothing I want for my house, right on down to bread and milk, that I can’t order online. Do I pay more for it? You might say yes, but I could argue the other way. I might pay an extra $50 on a grocery order to get it online. Some would see that as wasted money. I see it as three hours I saved during the workday that I can work instead of having to deal with it later. I charge around $75 an hour for my services, or around $1.15 per minute. In the time it takes my wife to go to Walmart, I can make another $200 instead and just order it on Amazon, with a net profit of $150 for the effort. It’s faster, more efficient, and it can be argued – cheaper. (we’re back to the reasons to automate again.) You might argue for going after work instead of during the workday. After all, not everyone has that luxury. Ok, then my counter-argument would be that while you’re out shopping for whatever it is you need I’m home hanging out with my wife and kids – another way in which I win. It’s a net positive for me. Order online. (Besides we only have two local markets here, both of which we frequent. Otherwise it’s Walmart… ugh).
By 2027 I firmly believe that most of the commercial trucking and delivery industry will be replaced with automation; either due to advances in driverless autos or drone delivery and other delivery methods yet to be devised.
Will that be great for humanity? Maybe. Will it be great for the trucking industry and the hundreds of thousands of ancillary personnel that depend on it? Absolutely not. No more drivers means no more unloaders (because, really, you don’t they can automate unboxing a truck? We’ve literally automated transporting supplies into space and back. We’re not that far away from a robot taking Vizio TV’s off the back of a semi while not knocking over the tomatoes).
It also means no more trainers, leasing companies, trucker insurance companies or related jobs, no more dispatchers, no more training schools and all those related jobs and personnel. All gone. That’s human resource people, accountants, janitors, electrician jobs, construction jobs to build those places, mechanics to work on those diesels, detail guys to wash them – because the robot won’t care how shiny he is. I totally forgot about truck stops. There goes a chunk of the food industry, gas stations, retail, and all the people that support those jobs as well.
One simple thing, one small change in how we do something, would have a tremendous impact.
But do you say NO simply because of that? It’s hard to justify that when the other side of the coin is that companies purchasing products can get products delivered faster and cheaper, which means they can put that money into other things; employee insurance plans, higher wages, vacations, more office space, better computer systems, etc.
I bet the guy that depended on horse carriages had this same argument when cars became mainstream. Wheelwrights lost jobs. Carpenters weren’t needed. Painters went without work. And what the hell do we do with all these horses? Tons of related industry jobs went the way of the dodo simply because some dude invented a car that removed the need for a horse to take you places. But we would argue today that it was simply progress.
I mean hell, using the trucking industry itself. Don’t you think it dramatically affected the rail-cargo system in a negative way? After all, before commercial trucking if you wanted to get a package from point A to point B you used a train. How many jobs went away when the first big rig rolled off the line?
We all have smartphones now and we love them. Would you rather go back to the days when you had to tell the human operator to connect you to someone across town via actually plugging a wire into a switchboard? Try getting your email that way! lol
Technology, in my opinion, is always justified and accepted in hindsight. I know this. But really… what are all the actual physical people going to do? Where will all the warm bodies go to make their income to feed their other little warm-bodied offspring that will eventually want to perpetuate the cycle?
I don’t know…