I was a teenager busing tables part-time and collecting tips. They had just opened a branch of the bank I went to inside a local super-market near my work. “Great”, I thought. “Now I can just conveniently swing by on my way to work and deposit my money.”
Well, little did I know, things weren’t going to be that easy. Every time (it seemed) I would walk in, there was always this one grumpy bank-teller who just looked disgusted every time I would approach the counter with my deposit slip and money. “You know …”, she’d say “there’s ATM right around the corner. You could just deposit the money in there instead of coming up here”. It was pretty obvious she did not want to do her job.
An ATM? Nonsense. I was depositing money the way I had seen my Dad deposit money thousands of times before this. Why should I do anything different?
The next time I stopped in, she told me the same thing. But this time she was more gruff about it. “I told you last time – you can just use the ATM if you want to make these kinds of deposits”.
That was the last straw for me. I had had enough of this rude lady. After that day, I started going to the ATM instead. And you know what? It was kinda awesome! There was barely ever a line, and I was able to deposit my money in a fraction of the time I used to take me.
About a year later, that bank branch closed down. But you know what? The ATM still remained. “How ironic …,” I thought. That lady pushed me (and who knows how many other people) over to the ATM to do her job. And now the ATM is still here, but she isn’t.
This got me thinking: Had that bank teller been a little more helpful, would the branch have provided a better service? Would they still be open today? Might she still have a job?
Robots are Coming to Replace Our Jobs
For most people, there is nothing more devastating than the loss of a job. Their only source of income is suddenly cut off. Their livelihood at risk.
That certainly wasn’t the last time I witnessed jobs being replaced by robots (if you want to call them that). In the decades to follow, the trend becomes more and more apparent.
Technology is a bit of a double-edged sword. It’s supposed to make our lives easier and do the things that we humans don’t really want to do. For companies, its particular important because it can improve efficiency, increase throughput, and make fewer mistakes.
But with each new technological advancement, something humans used to do becomes extinct. Their service becomes obsolete. I can think of several ways in which that has touched our daily lives.
- Why drive to an actual store when I can just buy it on Amazon? (How many times have you said to yourself “Hey! Look at that – this one ships for free with Amazon Prime! I’ll just get it in 2 days.”). Soon, drones will deliver our packages. So what then of logistics companies?
- Travel agents have been replaced by DIY online travel websites.
- Stock brokers have been replaced by DIY online discount brokers.
- Video stores have been replaced by Redbox kiosks and Netflix.
- Music stores are literally a thing of the past thanks to services like iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify.
- Even restaurants like Chili’s and Applebees now have tablets at each of their tables where patrons can order food or pay their bills – jobs that a server used to perform.
In my home-state of Michigan, this has been a very stark reality to the entire automotive industry. Much of the 2016 presidential race was based on the promise of the return of manufacturing jobs. But the reality is that those specific jobs are never, ever coming back. Manual labor has been replaced by automation – robots took the jobs that real people used to because they can work around the clock tirelessly without dispute.
Physical labor isn’t the only human service that technology has come to replace. In the recent NASA movie “Hidden Figures” (or any movie about the space program), you’ll notice that these places used to employ rooms of white-collared engineers performing scores of calculations by hand. However, all of that became obsolete once IBM computers came online and were able to perform those same calculations in fractions of second.
You could say “That’s not fair. They took our jobs!”
But advancement is going to happen, whether we like it or not.
So the only logical question we can ask is: What can we do about it?
Preparing For Unknown Opportunities
As I see it, there are really only two strategies we can embrace.
The first is to realize that if your career is going to evolve, then you need to as well. It’s unrealistic to expect that the tasks you performed 10 years ago are going to be the same ones you will do today. This is largely thanks again to the pace of technology. Within a decade, most professional companies will change their software applications at least a handful of times. This of course means the way you will interact with these programs will be different.
But this change can also go a lot further. In many respects each time technology renders an old occupation obsolete, it creates a new one in its place. Let’s go back to our earlier examples and expand upon them.
- Amazon will need an army of individuals to help them handle the logistics of their orders.
- Travel websites need to interact with databases of available flights and hotels, and someone needs to support this.
- Online discount stock broker programs have to proactively provide research and data in order to remain competitive, and someone will need to coordinate this.
- Redbox kiosks are machines that will require setup and maintenance; which someone must provide.
- Netflix will need to negotiate licensing and pricing with the major movie houses in order to have options to stream, and someone will need to make this happen.
- The options and playlists we find on Pandora and Spotify will need to be programmed by someone.
- The IT behind those tablets at the casual dining restaurants will need to be installed and carefully looked after.
- The use of robots in manufacturing introduces a whole new industry. There will be needs for people to engineer, build, repair, sell, and train on these devices.
I think you get the idea…
This reality is why U.S. Department of Labor predicts that 65% of children will be in jobs that have not yet even been created yet. The world is constantly innovating, and therefore none of us can accurately predict what it will look like in 10 years from now.
So while your old job may be replaced by a robot, there is a high probability that you will be able to side-step into an entirely new one.
The question we all need to ask ourselves is: What are we doing to be ready for it? How can we prepare and be ready for something when we don’t even know what it will be?
My belief is that this can be achieved if we just keep an open mind. Be open to the fact that you may be asked to something tomorrow that you’ve never done before. Get accustomed to operating outside your comfort zone, and embrace the challenge of learning something new.
To quote Whitney Young, Jr., an American Civil Rights Leader: “It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have one and not be prepared.”
We Need to Provide Better Value
The second solution I will suggest is a simple one. It’s something that we as humans can do better than machines if we really try …
Technological advancements are often rooted in our own personal short-comings. We look for machines to do the things that people don’t do very good or could do better. But our brains are still at least 30 times better than the any super-computer. We have the ability to innovate customized solutions for employers and the customers they seek to service. We need to focus on this talent and make it the core of our skills. For as long as we possess this, nothing can replace us.
I think back to my opening story about the disgruntled bank-teller. Now of course I will never know why she was the way she was or why the bank branch ultimately closed. But I’d like to think that if she had been a little more inviting and helpful, this would have lent itself to much greater opportunities. She and the other tellers could have better promoted other products, loans, investments, refinance opportunities, etc.
Just maybe … they could have provided something helpful to someone that they didn’t even know they were looking for.
While we often think of speed and lower price as being major components to purchasing decisions, don’t underestimate the “people factor”. Lots of people shop in higher-priced stores or eat in nicer restaurants because they want that fundamental sense of human interaction. When we challenge ourselves to provide such service, we earn this loyalty, and that makes it harder for us to become indispensable.
Readers – How have you witnessed robots and technology replacing our jobs? What do you think we can do to overcome the situation and preserve our employability?
Image courtesy of Flickr