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It’s time to let go of the myth that automation kills jobs.
The truth is, automation only kills the jobs that are underutilizing human talent and potential – ones like bookkeeping, data entry, and other clerical tasks. In most cases, these jobs only stimulate the most basic level of human ingenuity. They are also the jobs that are susceptible to error because natural biases and human habits of distraction often get in the way when a human performs them. These biases are eliminated when performed by a machine, leaving less room for error.
So why not automate these jobs and free up your existing human capital to focus on more stimulating, valuable work for the company? Because automating the boring stuff gives your human team the space they need to do human things – like think, create, and innovate.
Let’s explore how we got into the mindset that automation is “bad,” and how the economy will ultimately adjust to automation naturally (hint: it always has). And finally, let’s look at what types of jobs will be left for humans as more automation is introduced – primarily dynamic, creative, more human ones.
Education and Wage: A Failed Relationship
During the 1990s, the Clinton administration associated the slowing of economic growth with the acceleration of technology – specifically the automation of certain jobs. In the 1995 Economic Report, the administration claimed that introducing these new technologies decreased the demand for unskilled and under-educated workers.
These claims encouraged people to seek higher education and skills training that they believed would give them a competitive advantage in the job market. However, this narrative – which continued well into the 2000s – oversimplified a far more complex economic situation: automation was only one piece of a very complex puzzle.
But naturally, people raced to stay ahead of the curve. They spent boatloads of money to educate and upskill themselves. Everyone who could access higher education wanted to get ahold of that competitive advantage in this changing economy. Sadly, most efforts were made in vain because the median annual wage of college graduates over about the last 20 years rose by only 1% from 2000 to 2019.
That’s two decades with almost no wage improvement amongst the educated working class. What we’ve ultimately been left with is an underpaid, over-educated population – far too qualified to do the jobs that automation is able to occupy anyway.
The slump in economic and wage growth was never just about automation, and this assessment remained misguided for decades. Challenges like inflation, sluggish increases to the minimum wage, and changes to supply and demand all contributed to this mess. As it turns out, automation is one small, relatively insignificant piece to a far more complex economic condition.
We will adjust economically. We always have.
In the late 18th Century, most of the workforce held jobs in agriculture. Today, less than two percent of the population works in the agricultural industry. As new technologies eliminated these jobs, workers adapted and moved into industrial sectors. The industrial economy eventually transformed into a service economy, and then, the service economy into an information one.
These technological shifts have never been about destroying jobs, but creating new ones. Historically, these shifts have taken decades, even entire centuries. But, with the rapid pace of innovation in automation, we’re seeing this transformation happen much faster now.
The cool part about this shift is that automation removes the tedious jobs that diminish the human experience – the jobs that take away our ability to think and learn and create. Automating these jobs allows us to create new jobs that focus on cultivating the natural skills and talents specific to humans that require critical thinking and creativity.
Creativity is our competitive advantage.
The thing is, automation is excellent at reducing repetitive digital work, but it’s not great at replacing the work that human beings do best. A digital worker can scrape leads for a job opening with incredible accuracy and no bias, but it can’t illustrate a graphics pack, talk a colleague through a workplace incident, or design a new product. In short, automation isn’t a threat to creative, human work.
Imagine your team comes up with a cool idea. Think about everything you need to go through to execute that idea today. This execution likely involves a process of very tedious steps that include data collection, budgeting, and organizing.
Instead of doing all those boring tasks, imagine your team could jump from idea to a new product or service in a matter of days, even hours – producing a tangible product that they could play with, redesign, then redesign some more.
This is an example of what automation can do for your team. Automating monotonous jobs creates space for your employees to explore new ideas that can help grow your company. By allocating the administrative tasks to automation, your team can focus on playing with ideas and seeing them rapidly come to life. Automation provides an opportunity for you to dramatically increase the quantity and quality of products and services you can offer to your customers.
By introducing automation, you replace hours of human capital spent on data collection, input, and research, with opportunities for growth and innovation. Automating these tasks allows you to free up your team’s time to use their unique talents and knowledge in ways that could transform your company.