By Swikar Oli
According to a new report by Ryerson’s Brookfield Institute, as businesses use technologies that outpace human effort and ability, workers will need more training and education to catch up to new job expectations. This will mean a person who wants to meet the job market’s demands will have to supply new skills.
Automation increases competition in so many fields that it has reduced demand for labour, leading to an “oversupply of university grads” said Creig Lamb, a policy advisor and author of “Future-Proof: Preparing Young Canadians for the Future of Work.”
His research found Canadian youth are three times more likely to have a job that’s at a high-risk of being automated.
“Occupations are changing very fast, and you shouldn’t think of education as job training. If you think of it as job training, the job’s going to be obsolete, so you should think of it as education in how to access information; how be nimble; how to change; how to be a productive worker.”
“From 1980s onward, the automation of routine tasks has resulted in a kind of hollowing out of the middle [class] in the labour market,” said Lamb.
A 2016 study by TD economics found full-time work has been losing the share of total employment since the late 1980s.
Artificial intelligence is predicted to have a big presence in the future
Manufacturing, extraction and service sector jobs will be disproportionately affected by machines. The jobs of accountants, economists and financial analysts are also at risk of a shakedown.
A 2017 study by McKinsey & Company reported 50 per cent of all work activities around the world could be automated with existing technology. Current artificial intelligence (AI) can handle processing large data and completing predictive and routine tasks, rather than ones that require decision-making and explaining.
The routine tasks at even the most skilled professions are at risk. According to Lam this includes jobs that were once thought to be “outside the realm of technology.” So far it has diagnosed diseases earlier than a doctor would, found relevant case law swifter than a lawyer, and driven more safely than a truck driver.
Sanam Niazi, a first year social work student said AI programs like Google translate would help her talk to someone who spoke a different language but wondered if it would hurt the job prospects of a native speaker. Knowing the person’s culture would also help relate with them, she said, something a computer cannot do.
Technological changes are not so obvious
Technological changes are not as obvious as massive layoffs or a company automating all their employees said Lamb. “What Walmart did to mom and pop shops Amazon might do to Walmart.”
Lamb used the example of Amazon who’s product delivery service is undercutting traditional big-box stores.
According to Lamb, Amazon is “chipping away the business model” of companies, like Target and Walmart by offering a cheaper and more convenient service to consumers. “What Walmart did to mom and pop shops Amazon might do to Walmart,” he said.
“The whole process of economic progress is wonderful, it gives us new things, but it’s cruel,” said Ryerson economics professor John Isbister.
People losing their jobs should be supported
Isbister likens the current technological change to that of people involved in the horse industry losing their jobs to the newly made automotive sector.
He believes there should be support for people who’ve lost their job due to automation.
“I think it’s not the industry, but the person in it, who should be supported—maybe even a financial subsidy to get them through old age because it’s not their fault the industry went under.”
“If you’re being screwed over by this process, you want the government to step in,” Isbister said. “[The government and its people] should retrain them, give them subsidies. It’s not their fault; it’s not their fault at all.”
How to work around automation
Lamb said students have to ask themselves what they offer above and beyond technology.
“Occupations are changing very fast, and you shouldn’t think of education as job training. If you think of it as job training, the job’s going to be obsolete, so you should think of it as education in how to access information; how be nimble; how to change; how to be a productive worker,” said Isbister.
“The ability to learn, the ability to understand trends, and the ability to work with others” are soft skills students aren’t taught to learn, Lamb said. This includes the “job-specific ability to work with people, really work in an office, and things like that.”
A survey of 256 Canadian employers conducted by job-hunting website Workopolis found that 29 per cent of respondents lacked soft skills.
Lamb advises students looking for work to keep an eye on market demands in fields where their skills are transferable. Digital literacy, which involves the ability to use technology to solve problems, would add value to any resume.