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Technology is taking away jobs, but that's not the whole story

Posting in Technology

Technology is set to take lots and lots of jobs away over the next few years. But is that a balanced prediction?

There has been plenty of concern voiced in recent years about the frenetic pace of information technology as a job killer. And to a large degree, these predictions are valid. There are a lot of jobs that are have been lost, or are being lost to automation.

Now, ironically, it appears that the people who produce job-killing technology are also set to find their own jobs on the chopping block. For example, with the current pace of data center automation, many IT jobs may be fading away over the next few years. CIO's J.D. Sartain, channeling several recent Gartner reports, notes that "smart machines" may soon be threatening jobs across the tech spectrum.

A wave of intelligent agents, virtual reality assistants, expert systems and embedded software "could significantly devalue and/or displace millions of humans in the workforce," Gartner's Kenneth Brant is quoted as saying. Plus, Sartain continues, financial institutions won't need as many IT staffers when they begin to "process the bulk of their transactions in the cloud." In addition, many government agencies will pare down their technology executive staffs when they recognize that they don't need both chief information officers and chief digital officers.

There is a lot of pain when technology shifts occur, and technology workers themselves are not immune. However, these dire predictions consistently fail to account for the wide range of opportunities the digital era is enabling. For example, it's easy and relatively cheap to start up a new business idea, using the abundance of cloud resources and social networks that are available. Hard-charging companies such as Uber -- which leverage mobile and cloud technology -- weren't possible a couple of years ago.

3D printing -- singled out as a job-destroying, disruptive technology (see list below) -- also is giving rise to a new class of manufacturing operations and a maker culture, no longer dependent on manufacturing operations in some distant country.

It's not even necessary to launch a startup intended to scale into the stratosphere -- individuals can work as independent or freelancers, leveraging the power of web resources and contacts. A recent report (PDF) from MBO Partners estimates that in the U.S. alone, the number of independent workers has risen by 10% over the last two years, now totaling $18 million -- and they generated nearly $1.2 trillion in total income in 2013, up a strong 20% from 2012.

Technology initiatives over the next five years will be producing the following capabilities, all of which will displace jobs somewhere along the spectrum, as cited in the CIO article. It's notable that all these are areas of opportunity as well, however:
  • Smart metering solutions (utilities)
  • 3D printing
  • Cloud-based big data analytics
  • Software-controlled devices
  • Products and appliances in fields such as fleet and facility management, transportation, warehousing, manufacturing, industrial and commercial management and surveillance

(Thumbnail photo: Honda public relations department.)



— By on January 9, 2014, 8:37 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure