Is Technology Taking Over The Workforce?

By Alicia Dawn Peterpaul

Technology has been changing the way that employees and employers operate since as early as the 1800s, and it appears that we are in a time of transition yet again. I aim to discover just who benefits from these technological transitions in the workforce, and who suffers. I discover just how the transitions affect society, and in particular how they affect the middle class. I also examine how the transition that we are experiencing today is comparable to that of a similar transition in the industrial days as I argue, that although we may be in a time of transition, there are ways to adjust to the changes, because in the end they created many new jobs in the past.

Innovation appears to be endless and beneficial for the human race as a whole, but is it really? According to research, technology has been proven to be a great tool for capitalism. As technology advances, so does inequality. (The Economist, 2014) So who benefits from technology then? The large industries and company owners benfit the most from technological advances, as automation continues to displace jobs. As automation replaces human jobs, industries benefit from lower labour costs, producing as much renveue as possible. (The Economist, 2014) This leaves workers competing with robots and machines. There are some jobs that are harder to replace than others of course, jobs that are not highly repetitive and easy to copy. This means that in order jobs to thrive in this modern day, they must be flexible and adaptable, just like their employees. However, that is not to say that these types of jobs cannot be taken over by technology, as it only makes it more difficult. Flexible and complex jobs still risk being broken down into small repetitive parts, where they can then be codified and repeated. (The Economist, 2014) It truly is an era of transition, as technology advances like never before, a computer can now beat you at a game of chess – and what may be even more astonishing, is that that comuter can fit into your pocket. Technology has already displaced jobs in the service industry, from bank tellers, grocery store clerks, and also in the automotive industry where companies like Nissan have robots almost fully produce their vehicles. (The Economist, 2014)

As a result of this inequality, while the rich industries reap benefits of low labour costs, workers are suffering. Jobs are simply no longer as secure as they once were in this new economy, as technology continues to raise unemployment rates. Capitalism has taken even more of the world’s total income with the new technological advances we have witnessed in the past few decades. Employment rates are the lowest that they have been since 1978, in the 1960s only about 1 in 20 men faced unemployment, and in just ten years from now that is estimated to turn into 1 in 7 men left unemployed, as jobs continue to become automated. (The Economist, 2014)
Traditionally there has been three sectors of employment in Canada. These sectors include the primary sector, the secondary sector and the tertiary sector. Primary consisting of things like fishing and forestry, while the secondary sector is responsible for manufacturing and construction. (Adams and Demaiter, 2008) The tertiary sector is resposible for employment in the services industry, with things like hotels, restaurants, banking and so on. There have been significant declines in the primary and secondary sector, leaving the tertiary sector to account for 65% – 75% of the labour force in Canada. This proves that there is a dramatic transformation in the labour force, suggesting the rise to a ‘new economy’. These immense amount of jobs were the very result of technological advancement. It appears jobs have spiked in a new form since the industrial days. (Adams and Demaiter, 2008) Typically, there has always been a working class, middle class and a ruling class. It has been suggested that in the new economy the middle class is essentially being squeezed out, which is alarming to politicians and economists. The work force, accompanied with technology, in this modern day, has been split into two main sectors. The first section consists of educated, and highly skilled workers who use the technology maintaining secure jobs, while many of the other sector are working for income that is below poverty level as technology uses them in insecure jobs. These insecure jobs are usually in the information services or tertiary sector. (Adams and Demaiter, 2008)

Workers in the information services economy, in a sense, compare to the proletariat workers in the old industrial economy. The 1800s saw technology take over much of their jobs in the same way that we are seeing now. Many craft workers and small business owners were out of work as the highly skilled workers and the flood of unskilled easily replaced workers were taking over. The unskilled workers worked along side machinery in tasks that were very repetitive, for example, instead of creating an entire vehicle they would create a door to a vehicle, over and over again. Much like the workers we see today in the services industry. The workforce had gone through a transition phase in the 1800s with the introduction to automation, but new jobs were rapidly emerging. Life eventually improved for workers in the industrial time, as they transitioned along side the technological advancements. Automation is once again, taking over, and it is up to policy makers to come up with solutions to help society adjust to these changes. Adjustment is not impossible, as we have done it once before with the introduction of welfare and unemployment benefits. (The Economist, 2014)

In this time of transition I have examined just who benefits from technological transitions in the workforce, and who suffers. I discovered just how the transitions affect society, and in particular how they affect the middle class. I also examined how the transition that we are experiencing today is comparable to that of a similar transition in the industrial days, and have concluded that it is possible to adapt to the technological changes, as we have done before.

references
Adams, Tracy L. and Demaiter, Erin I. (2008). Skill, education and credentials in the new economy: The case of information technology workers.Work, Employment, Society, 22: 351. (eReserve)
The Economist (January 18, 2014). The Onrushing Wave.

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