BSR, a global nonprofit organization that works with 250 member companies to build a sustainable world, has issued a 32-page report titled “Good Jobs in the Age of Automation,” by Jessica Davis Pluess. Technology, she says, is taking on more cognitive abilities, a situation that will have wide-ranging implications. “It is essential that we approach this wave of innovation in a way that creates widespread benefits for people, society, and business,” she writes.
She takes as a starting point the Oxford study (which I wrote about here) estimating that 47% of U.S. jobs are at high risk of automation. She acknowledges that technology will create many jobs. For example, Foxconn employs 1,600 workers in two factories to produce 10,000 “Foxbots” per year. And estimates indicate that the Internet has created 2.6 jobs for every job it destroyed.
But the new jobs won’t be one-to-one replacements for old jobs. The good news is that the new jobs may be more attractive than the old ones, with automation taking over physical and dangerous work, and automation can make work available to people whose disabilities made them unable to perform the old jobs. However, workers—particularly the women who make up the bulk of the light manufacturing workforce worldwide and who likely have limited education—may not be prepared to undertake the new jobs.
Davis Pluess cites trends showing that companies often view labor and technology as opposite sides in a zero-sum game. “Adopting a more mutually reinforcing relationship whereby automation augments and extends the capabilities of workers could make automation a win for both workers and business,” she adds, describing what BSR calls an “inclusive economy.”
Building such an economy, she writes, will require dealing with disruptive technological trends: intelligent robotics, additive manufacturing, remote connectivity, advanced analytics, and the Internet of Things.
Going forward, BSR will investigate how automation is changing production, how it is impacting the creation of good jobs, and how business and labor can capture opportunities and mitigate risk.
Commenting on BSR’s report, Bourree Lam in The Atlantic writes, “In the end, the picture is still pretty bleak.” She quotes Davis Pluess as saying, “When we looked at the latest research, the number of jobs eliminated is more significant than some of the jobs created.” For a silver lining, Davis Pluess adds, “But it is really hard to measure the jobs created, because I think that work is not going to look the same.”