Robots are stealing jobs - should you care?

By Ryan Prosser

Work is important. For most, it's where we find meaning.

My brother works as a bartender and absolutely loves his job. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Three years ago, he lived in my parent's basement, playing video games all day and lacked any motivation to leave the house or wake-up before 1 pm. Over time, not having a job was eroding his sense of self-worth and sending him down a dark path. Those closest to him were worried something terrible would happen. 

Not long after getting a job as a bartender, he became a new person. I always thought he had a certain x-factor, but trying to convince him never worked. His job allows him to see his value. If you’ve ever seen Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail - that’s my brother. He’s charismatic, a natural entertainer, and a mad scientist when it comes to inventing craft drinks. His managers and even regional managers have noticed his potential for advancement (read more about it in his job review). Then COVID hit...

Tom Cruise in Cocktail

Hopefully, his job will come back, and it seems likely with news of a vaccine, but it's helped me realize how important a job is to one's identity. What if his job doesn't come back? Will he be able to find something else he enjoys? Human beings need to have meaning or purpose in their lives. Otherwise, they behave in a way that doesn't serve their own interests, self-sabotaging themselves in a recurring loop reminiscent of Groundhog Day.

Steve Jobs, Robin Williams, and Kobe Bryant

Three global icons who abruptly died. When each passed, the whole world seemed to go into mourning. But why were their deaths so different?

Steve, Robin, and Kobe represented greatness and absolute passion—greatness in their craft, passion in their dedication to being the best. Few people have matched their ability to make the lives of others better. When they died, the world seemed to be less than it was the day before.

Kobe Bryant  Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images

Looking at humans from a macro-level, it's easy to see the differences: interests, culture, customs, language, way of life, appearances, etc. But some universal truths still exist. 

We all want a good job. [1]

Most humans desire to find work they love on some level. If you're lucky enough to discover what that thing is, you are in a unique position to help others do the same. Greatness and passion are points of envy; everyone wants a piece of the action. It's why Steve, Robin, and Kobe were so infectious. 

Of course, there are other needs, but what you do for work is tied to your identity, purpose, or how you find meaning. There's a flipside; however: most people are stuck in mediocre jobs they hate and lack compelling career goals. Or worse, they have no job and no prospects. COVID's impact has brought these issues to the forefront. Many people feel lost and exist in a perpetual offline state, waiting for someone to turn them online.

Enter the Robots

Technology, automation, artificial intelligence, and robots are displacing jobs at an accelerating rate. But how fast?

According to McKinsey, technology could automate roughly 22-27% of jobs by 2030, and many of the jobs lost to COVID may disappear at an accelerated rate. [2] The good news is most experts predict the technology wave will create more jobs than the ones lost. Additionally, the positions at highest-risk are low-paying, repetitive, or dangerous.

Experts who are deeply concerned about the future of work and net job loss are typically discussing a time-scale beyond 2045 (a reference to the Singularity, where A.I. transcends the intelligence of a human being). Whether or not it happens that soon or at all, one thing is clear. Over the next 25 years, certain professions are going to get crushed, and certain professions will blossom. Will your job be affected?

Ask yourself, "are there elements of my job that are overly repetitive?" If the answer is "yes," more than likely, those aspects of your job are going away. But, not all jobs will be eliminated. Some will become augmented roles that work directly with technology, allowing workers to do less mundane and more creative, fun tasks. 

Look at truck drivers. Highway driving is fairly repetitive, but many of these jobs will be replaced by individuals monitoring performance and traffic data, as well as those building and coordinating the automated technology. Will you need the same number of workers to do the same job as before? Probably not. But there will always be new problems to solve as we strive to make life better.

Photo: Steve Granitz via Getty Images

Who will the winners and losers be?

The Losers:

  • Accountants/Auditors

  • Administrative Assistants

  • Cooks

  • Construction Laborers

  • Cleaners

  • Data Entry

  • Drivers

  • Insurance Agents/Underwriters

  • Models

  • Paralegals Legal Assistants

  • Personal Finance Advisors

  • Real Estate Sales Agents, Brokers, and Property Managers

  • Retail

  • Security Guards

  • Service (yes bartenders, but there will be opportunities for high-end service)

  • Tax Examiners

  • Telemarketers

  • Warehouse Workers

  • And many, many more...

The Winners:

The list isn’t comprehensive, and a lot of emerging careers don’t yet exist. However, there’s a commonality in a lot of creation being for technology-related fields. These positions will require highly skilled workers and a lot of discipline to master. So, who will fill all of these openings? 

Futurist Alvin Toffler's said, "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn." 

With so many people experiencing sudden career displacements, it's scary to imagine a world full of people with no purpose or future. Seeing this firsthand, we must find a way to reskill people for the jobs of the 21st century.

What if Steve Jobs wasn't born in San Francisco and never had the opportunity to meet Steve Wozniack? What if Robin Williams hadn't needed to use comedy as a way to connect with his mother and prevent himself from being bullied in school? What if Kobe's dad didn't play in the NBA and never introduced him to basketball? The point is, some people are lucky and happen to find the thing that lights them up inside, and others need help. If you haven't discovered what that thing is, don't give up. You owe it to yourself to keep looking. If you have found success, why not share your insights? Every day is a new opportunity to make a different set of decisions, and it's possible to get the help you need if you have a burning desire to grow or change.

So, should you care that robots are stealing jobs?

Yes. And the time to act is now.

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  1. The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton (2011).

  2. America’s future of work, Featured Insights by McKinsey and Company.


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