New White House Report Confirms Impact of Machines on Workforce
A report recently released by the White House paints a picture of the challenges facing HR in the near future as artificial intelligence (AI) continues to disrupt the workplace.
We talked in November about the current state of AI, and a report from the Obama administration concerning the need for education in STEM fields to develop and apply new AI technologies.
In December, 2016, the White House released its follow-up report on the impact of AI on the workforce. With an enormous transition underway, a paradigm shift is already taking place.
Machine driven innovation—and unemployment
An article in The New York Times discusses the plight of a middle-aged woman who has twice lost her employment due to automation. At a printing press and on a factory floor, machines now capably handle the jobs where she once earned her living.
All over the US and the globe, automation is presenting new opportunities and capabilities, while at the same time reducing the jobs available to less highly skilled workers. In the past, increased productivity generally led to higher wages and greater quality of life for workers at all levels.
In addition to boosting productivity, AI is now cutting into the workforce itself. Instead of raising wages, jobs are eliminated—a blue collar trend that will soon reach sharply into white collar jobs.
The growing gap in earning equality fuels economic and political unrest. Poorly handled, the advantages of AI, according to the administration report, could lead to a “superstar-based technological change,” a term that describes a condition where the benefits and wealth of AI flow to a small percentage of society—one that does not necessarily include highly skilled workers.
Reflecting populist sentiments in Europe and the United States, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few could lead to even greater destabilization. Jobs lost to machines and machine-learning are not coming back.
Automation is here to stay and big questions exist around the type of jobs yet to be created by AI. The Industrial Revolution radically displaced workers and eliminated jobs even as it opened doors to innovation, more jobs, and greater income equality.
The White House report suggests the types of jobs created by AI are those involved in the development, engagement, supervision, and adaptation of machine-based capabilities. While the next generation of students and workers will be attuned directly to these skill sets, the current workforce faces the challenge of adapting their businesses, skills, products, and employees to incoming changes fueled by AI.
While it is certain new jobs will be created, a clear perspective on these jobs, and how many people can fill those jobs, is not yet visible.
Because talent placement is the domain of HR personnel and recruiters, you must become knowledgeable about how and where AI will impact your workforce and industry.
What to look for in the near future—three points
The White House report discusses the primary impacts of AI on the American workforce. By reviewing these points, you can recognize approaching change and position your workforce to meet and survive the challenge through adaptation:
- AI boosts productivity: Increased productivity often drives the opportunity for improved quality of life. However, as noted in the report, “The benefits of technological change and economic growth…are not shared equality.” Without a policy or structure to reduce inequalities, benefits may not accrue to the workforce.
- Impact on the labor market: Noting that “AI-driven automation is setting off labor-market disruption and adjustment,” the report suggests displaced workers may recover through retraining, but perhaps without reaching former income levels. “These results suggest that for many displaced workers there appears to be a deterioration in their ability either to match their current skills to, or retrain for, new, in-demand jobs.” The resulting impact on the labor market could lead to greater numbers of long-term under- and unemployed workers—and communities.
- A toss-up—the need for good policy: The advantages of AI to the workforce will be determined by how and if the benefits of increased productivity are distributed to American workers in a way that improves wage equality and allows broader marketplace participation.
Across the economy, the report suggests aligning with AI to move through the transition ahead, with steps that include:
- Take advantage of present and future benefits by investing in AI
- Put education and training in place to prepare your workforce for the future
- Invest in transitional aid, retraining, and placement to ensure displaced workers remain associated with the workforce in a productive way
The coming year promises new developments in AI and a great deal of change for companies with outdated technologies and workers. No longer confined to the future, AI, and the shifting job marketplace is now.