How Safe Is Your Job?
The patchy, piecemeal recovery from the global recession of 2009 has fostered an attitude of cautious optimism among economists. But even as the economy slowly regains its former strength, another threat to middle class job security has reared its head: technology.
Automation has changed the way large-scale, repetitive tasks are performed; online commerce has caused retailers to re-think their strategies, and in some cases abandon brick and mortar outlets altogether; even relatively new jobs like data entry are being replaced by software. Travel agents and postal workers are feeling the squeeze from the Internet and email respectively.
These trends, combined with Moore’s Law (which states that computer power roughly doubles every 18 months) are understandably anxiety-inducing for many employees who already work in roles involving technology. Even if their job is safe for now, with automation actively helping them perform better, there lingers a suspicion that the technology currently on show represents the thin end of a very big wedge.
If you’re worried about your job, console yourself with the fact that forecasts of tech-driven mass unemployment have been bandied about since the Industrial Revolution – and they’re yet to prove accurate. Specific jobs may fade into obscurity over time (switchboard operators, weavers, human alarm clocks… no, really) but fears of sudden societal collapse caused by cross-industry automation are unfounded. Demand for goods and services continues to rise, and workers facing obsolescence in one industry quickly adapt to another. In 20 years we’ll see jobs we can’t currently imagine emerge to meet demands that don’t currently exist.
A 2014 Pew survey neatly illustrates the lack of consensus on where technology is taking us. The poll asked 2,551 experts this question: Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence applications and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?
The result was a near-50/50 split, with 48% of respondents answering ‘yes’ and 52% answering ‘no.’ Both responses have merit. The more optimistic view holds that advancements in technology will always require human effort; the alternative opinion suggests that robotics will become so complex and sophisticated that they will outperform – and outgrow – human efforts.
That opinion is split so evenly confirms that any predictions regarding our future relationship with technology in the workplace should be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s worth remembering that the aforementioned Moore’s Law is not comparable to, say, the laws of physics, which describe how the universe works irrespective of what we do. It is merely an observation about the performance of computer scientists over the past 50-odd years, and can’t be relied upon for accurate forecasting.
Some jobs may appear safer than others right now, but the truth is that nobody knows where we’re headed. Rather than attempting the Quixotian task of safeguarding your job from the inevitable encroachment of technology, you should be honing your adaptability and widening your skillset. In the face of uncertainty, flexible autodidacts will fare better than tunnel-visioned specialists.
So how safe is your job? We don’t know. But working under the assumption that you might need to switch careers in a decade’s time, and preparing accordingly, will mitigate the risks.
Marc is a Director of The Talent Hive and leads our IT recruitment practice. Originally from the UK, Marc has been living in Christchurch, New Zealand for ten years and working in the recruitment sector for just as long. Marc has worked as an in-house recruiter and within multinational recruitment consultancies and independent SME recruitment businesses.
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Categorised as: Career Development, Job Seeker Advice