It’s better you hear it now than in ten years, or realistically speaking - five years. Many people have already been forced out of a job because they’re too expensive to employ and slower than a machine. It’s happening now more than ever but this isn’t a new phenomenon. Since the 70’s robots have been widespread, with the earliest known standardised industrial robot created in 1937. Nowadays robots are becoming household items, helping with everything from cleaning, lighting and heating to monitoring the garage door and making coffee. The changes are gradual and sometimes unnoticeable, but very real.
Speak to anyone over the age of thirty and they may tell you of the common career advice to get a steady, secure job in the bank - a job for life. Nowadays, walk into any major bank and you will find an assortment of machines to help you with you lodgements, withdrawals and general banking enquiries. Almost no need for a teller at all, only assistants to help you use the machine. How long will it be before the assistants are no longer needed?
Business owners are all to aware of the benefits: you don’t have to train a machine, it doesn’t take sick days or breaks and won’t complain about being treated unfairly. You don’t have to interview it, give it performance reviews or talk to it nicely. It will always be on time and has no salary or career progression requirements. If it breaks down, it can be replaced by another machine at a moments notice. Instead of getting more expensive as time goes on (like an employee), the machines become geometrically cheaper.
However, there will alway be individuals who prefer to deal with a person above a machine; to talk to human instead of a robot. Perhaps you are one of these people and you’re happy to pay, but would you be content to pay an increasingly expensive premium for this privilege? Imagine the next time you want to order a coffee it will cost you €3 for the machine to make it, or €4 for the barista. Would you be prepared to pay the difference and if so, for how long? You’ll soon realise the machine does the same job, faster and more consistently - for a cheaper price.
I believe it will certainly pose challenges on a social level for many people - what will we do with all this extra time? Will we be able to make income in new ways or will the social welfare system have to be totally restructured? Or will much more of us simply be redeployed to the robotics industry the same way many people have moved to the IT industry?
So what is the solution?
Well, in my opinion, the only way to survive is to become indispensable as an employee. In other words, aim to do work that a machine could never do and that can’t be easily outsourced to cheaper country: creative work, human-dependent work, innovative idea generation, complex problem solving in grey areas. We can’t focus on outworking the competition in countries with low value currencies, we need to uncover new ways to outthink them.
Finally, it’s crucial now more than ever to have a self directed learning habit. Waiting for a course to be created or for your employer to give you an opportunity to acquire new skills may be too slow. Make a continuous professional development plan and look to the leaders in your industry for what to learn how to learn it. Also ask 'what did they not deem important enough to learn?'