Automation – How Safe is Your Job?

With new technologies and automation rapidly affecting current job, our question for you is: How safe is your job?

My wife and I have just come back from a holiday in South America (Brazil and Argentina), and one of the things I was struck with was the number of jobs that exist there that have disappeared here (New Zealand).

For instance, in Mendoza, wine country in the west of Argentina, and in the shadow of the Andes, when we parked our rental car in the street, and we started looking around for parking meters, a man came running up to us for payment.

He patrols that street all day, and monitor who has paid, and how much. We gave him the equivalent of $2. In the morning, before we drove off, another man, asked for payment for the previous hour. He had put a card on our car which showed when the payment was from.

Similarly, when we took an intercity bus (we used the excellent sleeper buses between Mendoza and Buenos Aires), a man put our bag on the bus and asked for a tip (around $1). Everyone else in the queue was ready for this, but with our habituation to credit cards for everything we were not used to carrying small change.

In Brazil, when you park your car, you pay someone who gives you a ticket, which you then put in a machine that opens the barrier, while back in Argentina, the many toll booths are all manned, and cars queue up to hand over peso notes and get change.

In all of these cases, the sums of money were trivially small, but they all interrupted the flow of our day (first world problems, I know). Having people doing these jobs does not make the customer’s life easier, but you probably don’t notice it if you’ve never experienced an automated alternative.

It’s not a big deal. Until a competitor comes along and makes life easier for your customers.

None of these jobs exist in New Zealand (or in many parts of the world). The likely reason they still exist in Argentina and Brazil is the low wage level for unskilled work in those countries – it’s simply cheaper to employ people than to automate.

But comparing countries like this can give us an indication of how automation will evolve and how rapidly it will affect current jobs.

So, how safe is your job?

In many states in the US, the most common job is truck driver – a job that has been relatively well paid. Autonomous vehicles will mean that these jobs will disappear, but many more jobs will go too. A year ago, Thomay Frey wrote about 128 things (including many jobs) that would disappear. And this will start to happen in the next ten years.

Oxford University has come up with some predictions about when specific jobs will disappear. Based on the combined wisdom of over 300 scientists, they predict that robots could be driving trucks by 2027. It will, they say, take over 100 years to automate all labour.

But maybe the key takeaway is that, while many jobs will not be fully automated, automated helpers will take over many of the repetitive components of a job, allowing humans to focus on the real value add. So, as you think about the opportunities and challenges of automation in your business, don’t think about jobs disappearing as much as the repetitive elements being automated, allowing customers to self-serve, reducing errors and enabling staff to focus on growing the business rather than just maintaining it.  

Remember, making your job redundant is job one.

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Photo credit: Kyrissa Kolisyk