Infotech and the Twenty-First Century Workforce

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Infotech and the Twenty-First Century Workforce

According to a new report from the Brookings Institution, “Employment has shifted from the career, to the job, to the task.” In the report, Jerry Davis, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, asserts that jobs will vanish because advances in information and communication technologies have given rise to the “gig economy.”1

The most obvious example of the gig economy is Uber, which roughly doubled its number of drivers in the 9 months from December 2014 to September 2015. Those 327,000 drivers, however, are not employees but independent contractors; Uber’s salaried workforce consists of only about 2,000 employees.

As Davis points out, “There is now an Uber for almost any personal service you can imagine . . . from package pickup and mailing to housecleaning and house calls by physicians. . . . When smartphones are ubiquitous, Uberization has the prospect of turning the world into a Home Depot parking lot,” where independent workers are hired by the day for construction projects.

Davis sees this model applied to all types of jobs: “From the provision of medical care to college lectures, a wide range of activities currently classified as ‘jobs’ could easily become ‘tasks’ paid on a piece rate.”

Many other pundits agree:

  • According to Gartner research director Peter Sondergaard, “Gartner predicts one in three jobs will be converted to software, robots, and smart machines by 2025. New digital businesses require less labor; machines will make sense of data faster than humans can.”2
  • The Oxford Martin Program on the Impacts of Future Technology predicts that, “Nearly half of U.S. jobs could be susceptible to computerization over the next two decades.”3
  • A study by McKinsey & Co. concludes that, “[O]ur research suggests that as many as 45 percent of the activities individuals are paid to perform can be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies. . . . In the United States, these activities represent about $2 trillion in annual wages.” The authors add, “Although we often think of automation primarily affecting low-skill, low-wage roles, we discovered that even the highest-paid occupations in the economy, such as financial managers, physicians, and senior executives, including CEOs, have a significant amount of activity that can be automated.”4

All of this leads to the inescapable conclusion that networked intelligence, smart machines, and robotics are destroying jobs and hurtling the economy toward a future in which unemployment will be rampant.

Fortunately, that bleak scenario is unlikely to become reality...

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