By Scott Dennis
The McKinsey Global Institute has published a sweeping overview of the looming effects of technology on the global workforce. The 160 page report is a well-researched and honest attempt to predict the future of our relationship with technology. We say relationship because as the report dives deeper into the comprehensive ways that technology envelops our lives, the question is not merely about “robots taking our jobs” but rather more like a landscape where we need to make many compromises if this marriage it going to work out. We can forgive McKinsey’s researchers for being overly optimistic describing their data in this way “the results reveal a rich mosaic of potential shifts in occupations in the years ahead…” a quote that could be taken straight out of a Human Resources handbook on employee termination. It helps to have a positive spin when writing about this issue because things could go very badly for us, but they are not fait accompli.
The Blue Collar Think Tank promotes the holistic introduction of technology into the work force and we agree with the McKinsey report that the front lines of a successful transition lay with employers and also the way the employees see the very idea of work. We would advise an additional component to this which would be increasing workers control over their workplace. The McKinsey report points out that the introduction of new technology can be expensive and time consuming, suggesting that employers may even decide that automation doesn’t make economic sense. The conundrum of rising productivity resulting conversely in flat wages in America suggests otherwise; corporate managers seem to believe that jumping on the tech train is inevitable and they collude with shareholders against workers on these decisions. The labor force needs to have more of a say in IT policy that will adversely affect their paychecks, sweeping reform of corporate by-laws will be required for this to work, perhaps with a requirement for members of unions to be equal equity partners.
The McKinsey researchers are quick to point out that they could be underestimating the negative impacts of automation in the workplace noting that policy makers may be slow to respond to the challenge, that workers will not have replacement jobs quickly at the ready or the ability to gain new skills which will create a downward pressure on wages. We believe that the epicenter for the political change needed to address these issues will be in mayor’s offices nationwide. Who doesn’t know a grade school teacher who is forced to buy her own supplies for students because the district is perpetually underfunded? With a conservative estimate of 15% of the workforce displaced a massive strain on tax revenues on already crumbling municipalities will bring the problem to a head. This will eventually pit policy makers against employers that are overzealous with automation, because after all robots don’t pay taxes.
Please read McKinsey’s full report here: https://tinyurl.com/ydhgaz8l
Scott Dennis Writes for Blue Collar Think Tank @bcthinktank