As the way we do business becomes more and more entwined with technology, so too do the fears of AI taking over grow. While not exactly the robot uprising prophesied by Hollywood films, automation’s impact on the labor market is undoubtedly cause for concern. As with anything, the increased prevalence of automation in our daily lives comes with a multitude of pros and cons to consider. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at who stands to win or lose as automation becomes the norm across a variety of industries.
Who Benefits From Automation?
Undoubtedly, the biggest winners in the push for more automation in the workplace are business owners. Sure, the initial investment costs are high, but when weighed against the long term profit increases that automation offers, it’s a small price to pay. The biggest area of opportunity in this regard is the overall reduction in labor costs. Recent studies have found that on average, each robot added to the workplace can replace 3.3 human workers. Taking salaries and employee benefits in mind and compounding those savings over several years, that initial investment will more than pay for itself in very little time.
Consumers also stand to benefit from increased automation when it comes to the quality and price of goods. While robots may never match the artistry of a skilled craftsman, they are unparalleled when it comes to consistency. With the possibility of human error removed from the equation, overall productivity increases and the amount of material waste is greatly diminished. As a result, businesses can produce goods with a consistent level of quality while passing the savings on to the consumer.
While the average human worker is typically viewed as the most at risk from the spread of automation, they’re also not without benefit. Inherently dangerous tasks, such as those that involve repetitive motions or the use of volatile compounds, no longer require putting worker safety at risk. Ideally, these workers could then be trained to take on different tasks within the company.
Who is Disadvantaged by Automation?
A quick look at job loss statistics reveals that lower to middle income workers are most at risk at being displaced by automation. In particular, manual laborers stand to lose the most. Currently, the auto industry is the largest adopter of automation technology; utilizing 38% of the global robotic workforce at a rate of 7.5 robots for every 1,000 human workers. According to a study from the Brookings Institution, roughly 24% of these skilled manual labor jobs are at risk of being replaced. Still, this pales in comparison to the service industry, where the same study predicts that over 70% of food preparation and serving jobs could be displaced by automation.
Outside of the jobs immediately affected, such mass layoffs typically lead to a downward trend in employment. Skilled solely in a field where their work is no longer needed, these displaced workers will look elsewhere and be forced to take jobs from other low income workers. As this cycle continues, more and more individuals will be left unemployed and without resources.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Whether you view automation as a net positive or negative, there is no doubt that it is here to stay. However, rather than spending time worrying about which roles are most likely to be replaced by robots, we should instead focus on how those roles will be redefined moving forward. It’s important to remember that mankind has been evolving alongside technology throughout history. As automation continues to take over repetitive and mundane tasks, it frees up workers who can be reassigned to new, more complex, creative, and fulfilling tasks.