Sci-fi media always depicts robots as the direct enemy, the more streamlined, efficient version of humans- superior in every way. Fortunately, there is no imminent danger of an apocalypse, at least not at the hands of robots. However, they seem to be invading in a way that is much more sinister. With the rise in job automation in the past few decades, blue-collar workers are beginning to fear for their jobs. This recent change may not be all that bad for the lucky few.
The first question to answer would be: are robots actually directly replacing the human workforce? The answer is technically yes and no. Many jobs in both developing and developed countries are switching to using automation when possible. An article titled “Is an Army of Robots Marching on Chinese Jobs?” by Osea Guintella and Tianyi Wang states, “Between 2012 and 2016, Foxconn has replaced more than 400,000 jobs with robots in China and is planning to achieve 30 percent automation by 2020.” As technologies advance, companies are finding it beneficial to use automation.
As is expected, certain demographics experience the negative effects of displacement the most. An article titled “Are Robots Stealing Our Jobs?” by Eric Dahlin states, “ A report by the Brookings Institution analyzes the IFR’s robot data and shows that the use of robots is most prominent in midwestern and southern states, states with large amounts of manufacturing activity.” The manufacturing industry consists of blue-collar workers, specifically those who are relatively low skilled, making their jobs some of the easiest to replace with robots. An article titled “THE RISE OF ROBOTS! EFFECTS ON EMPLOYMENT AND INCOME” by Rasim ÖZCAN states, “robot densification shifts demand from the low-skilled towards the high-skilled. That is, there is higher demand for skilled labor whereas demand for low-skilled labor suffers from robotization.” The higher the skill needed for a workers job, the safer they are from automation.
The onset of automation is not all bad; when one door shuts, another door opens. The natural flow of the workforce will lead to jobs being created from the increased productivity caused by robots. An article titled “A new study measures the actual impact of robots on jobs. It’s significant” by Sara Brown states, “Technology also has more positive productivity effects by making tasks easier to complete or creating new jobs and tasks for workers.” As entry-level jobs are rendered obsolete, more focus will be put on the new opportunities created by automation. This can serve as an advantage for younger workers. An article titled “Why Robots Won’t Steal Your Job” by Nahia Orduna states, “People just entering the workforce usually struggle to land roles with higher salaries because they have to compete with senior candidates. This competitive disadvantage disappears as new types of roles — roles that no one has done before — are created. Younger workers are less likely to be forced to compete with their seniors, and more likely to be pioneers. It’s easier to gain experience while an industry is young, when all workers start from the same playing field.
So are robots going to be the end of human labour and the cause of all mass unemployment? Definitely not in the near future. While some industries have replaced low skill workers with automation and many blue-collar workers have faced unemployment, humans are not facing obsolescence. Additionally, the increased productivity and efficiency of the robots may lead to new job opportunities for those willing to be the pioneers. The advances in technology inspire the need for workers to constantly be updating their skill sets. See a brief overview of this topic from youtube here.