Thursday, December 8, 2016

Do new technologies steal jobs?

As someone who works in retail, one of my daily duties is to supervise, maintain and teach people how to use the Self-Service checkout systems. Now Some people are quick to catch on how to use them, others need a bit more practice and there are of course those who will avoid them altogether. The most common excuse: If people use those things, employees lose jobs.
Is this true? Does introducing new technologies into an industry reduce its workforce?

First of all, off the bat, having a self-service checkout at a supermarket is by no means a fool-proof system. In addition to the supervisor, to keep the self-serve running you also require
- The Sales Manager
- The payroll team to collect and process profits
- IT support
- Technicians to make on-sight repairs when necessary
So in that sense, having a self-service checkout system won’t reduce the number of staff – you actually require MORE people to keep them up and running smoothly.

Secondly, for anyone who’s worked in retail, you will NEVER hear the accusation that technology results in a loss of jobs from anyone under the age of sixty who carries a smart-phone in their pocket. These comments typically come from those around retirement age at most.

So what’s the reasoning behind equating technology with job loss?

Let me tell you a story: Around 2006, I worked an admin job for a government-run printing company here in Brisbane. Now this company at the time I started working used old analogue printers where in order to print a document, you would have to prepare a separate plate for each page. Some of the staff who were operating these machines had been in the industry for up to twenty, even thirty years.
Now around early 2007, the decision was made to bring in a pair of brand-new digital color printers which are obviously computerised. As we brought these machines in, our company also brought on a graphic design team so that not only could we print documents, we could make our own artwork and graphics to go with them.
So what happened to the people who were using the old printers? Most of them while being industry veterans, had no idea how to use a computer, much less create graphics with Photoshop. My task as an admin assistant was to research where they could get the training so they could be brought up to speed – which the company was willing to pay for. Guess how many people signed up for training? None. How long did they stay with the company? Not very long. Most ended up retiring early
Why was this? I daresay: complacency – they came to work doing the same tasks, the same way, day after day, month after month, year after year, with little change. The company itself did not lose jobs numerically by bringing in new technology – by necessity it actuality required more people as it grew and expanded both in it’s methods as well as the final products it sold. What changed was the criteria for required competency.
And that’s basically Business Management 101: As the market grows, so does demand for newer, better products. Newer products require research and development into new technologies. New technologies require new skills and competencies. New Skills and Competencies come through TRAINING. For a business and it’s employees to intentionally avoid this would be corporate suicide.
That being said, as these older team members eventually left their positions, who was to blame? Was it the company? The new graphic design team? Or… just themselves?   

I was having a conversation with an acquaintance from Singapore who’s currently applying for Australian citizenship. He said to me: “Ben, I honestly can’t understand the work ethic of older Australians.”
“Why’s that?”
He said: “Ben in Singapore, when a young man finishes school, he gets sent to boot camp to begin National Service in the Defence Forces. Every summer over the next three years, everything that is said and done by the recruits is centred upon meeting a standard that affects both yourself and your comrades. And if you fall below that standard, you work as hard as you can to get there, or you wash out. And that attitude carries on into work and education. I look at older Australians and they always want the path of least resistance – they don’t want to learn anything new, they’re unashamedly critical of higher education. But the moment you have a younger person – or even a migrant – come into the company with the latest skills and qualifications and quickly climbs the promotion ladder, they quickly throw up their hands in protest.”


 So the objection that new technologies steal jobs is simply not reasonable – At worst, it actually reflects a lazy work ethic.

So what do you think: Is this merely a generational issue, or is technology to blame? I’d love to know what your thoughts are