The reputed man versus machine best characterized job obsolescence. Since the Industrial Revolution, technological advancements have taken away jobs originally performed by men and women. The invention of machine-operated farm equipment and production processes for example had led to reduction and reorganization of agricultural and manufacturing workforces.
In 19th century England, several textile artisans found themselves jobless due to the introduction of machines in garment factories from 1811 to 1817. Labeled as Luddites, these jobless individuals were highly skilled and creative laborers but machines such as stock frames, spinning frames, and power looms rendered them almost useless. Companies were installing these machines while also maintaining small workforces that required less-skilled and low-cost laborers.
Developments in telecommunication from 20th century to the 21st also rendered several jobs obsolete. For example, the arrival and subsequent popularity of telephones wiped away jobs relating to telegraphy. The introduction of more efficient mediums of long-distance communication such as text messaging and the Internet subsequently constricted post mail operations that resulted in job loss for courier and post office staff.
Machines and in general, technology have certainly improved the way the world produces value. Apart from trimming down production costs and improving fulfillment time, technology has bridged the gap between quantity and quality.
Technology has nonetheless been evolving rapidly during the past decades. From the introduction of computer and the Internet, to the pervasiveness of mobile communication and portable smart devices, it has truly become an inevitable part of modern day-to-day existence. The rate at which technology evolves creates prospects for a truly automated world that depends on machineries and more importantly, information technology.
Apart from the reduction and reorganization of workforces in several industries, technology has also resulted in so-called skills displacement.
The IT-driven society of today has prompted high demands for professionals possessing IT-related skills. According to a LinkedIn report for example, the top skills that got people hired in 2014 include Middleware and Software Integration, Storage Systems and Management, Network and Information Security, Search Engine Optimization and Marketing, and Mobile Development among others.
Technology is undeniably skill-intensive. This means that a technology-driven society or organization tends to favor those individuals who already possess high level of technical proficiency.
Tradability of services is also another indicator of skills displacement. Through telecommunication and other related technologies, companies in developed countries are now taking away jobs from their homegrown talents and redirecting them to talents in emerging markets through the process called outsourcing. Prime example of this is the emergence of business process outsourcing companies in India and the Philippines.
Possible future impacts
Improving productivity and efficiency are key reasons why companies and the society adopt technology. Currently, several upcoming technological applications may affect existing labor markets.
Factories in China such as Apple supplier Foxconn are planning to replace a considerable percentage of their workforces with robots to automate production processes. The possible commercial availability of 3D printers can also change current production processes across different industries while further reducing the need for skilled craftsmen. It is highly possible that robots or machines will populate majority of the production floor in the future.
The growing sophistication of voice recognition technology and smart assistants may also render BPOs in Asia useless. Note that smartphone devices have demonstrated the commercial availability of voice-enabled personal assistants that are able to perform complex interaction with users.
Information systems coupled with newer algorithms can replace administrative jobs, especially in this day and age of wireless digital communication and automation. With Google and other companies starting to work on creating driverless cars, the demand for public utility drivers may decrease.
Job obsolesce is an inevitable phenomenon, especially considering how technology has proven itself as a valuable resource for business organization. It is highly possible for technology to make certain jobs obsolete. However, this does not mean leaving individuals useless due to job unavailability.
Remember that the Industrial Revolution spawned the creation of capitalists and middleclass in Europe and the US. By the time the world entered the new millennium and completely embraced the Digital Revolution, status of living in several parts of the world—including Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East—has vastly improved.
While technology made certain jobs obsolete, it also resulted in the creation of newer jobs with newer roles and responsibilities that required newer sets of skills.
Embracing technology would thereby require improving the labor market. Education will nonetheless play a critical role in doing so. Through the transfer of most relevant skills and knowledge, education will be highly instrumental in preparing people for current and future trends while also bridging the gap created by technology between labor demand and skills shortage.