Source | http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/
For the average job-seeker or any parent wondering what kind of livelihood awaits the next generation, the current headlines are the stuff of anxiety attacks. Last month, the Associated Press announced that it would begin using an automated writing service to cover more than 10,000 minor league baseball games each year. Driverless trucks may soon be taking over from humans, elbowing out an entire profession. New technology purports to bring great change to a surprising number of fields, including law, medicine and financial services. What will be the human toll and net effect on the economy? Has the U.S. reached an epoch of irreversible job loss?
To a large extent, the public discussion over the future of work has followed a storyline that says technology and globalization are coming to whisk your job away. But behind the obvious forces, other perhaps more powerful factors are at play, says Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli, director of the school’s Center for Human Resources. “If one wanted to look at single changes that matter a lot to work, the biggest in my view has been ideology, the shift from the idea that business had a responsibility to all stakeholders toward the idea that they have responsibility only to one – shareholders.” He adds that the second most impactful change has been the rise of China and “the addition of maybe 500 million semi-skilled workers to the world labor force. Neither of those were predictable a decade or more in advance of them happening.”
The implications are as much political as economic, says Wharton management professor Matthew Bidwell. “Certainly for hundreds of years, people have said in the future nobody is going to work and machines will do it all for us, and that has yet to happen. First of all, up until now technology has created as many jobs as it has destroyed.”
Still, he says, the trends, for reasons quite apart from technology, are extremely worrisome. “The working class has not had a good 30 or 40 years in the U.S. and the U.K. The destruction of the minimum wage and destruction of the unions played a role, technology has played a role, and globalization has played a role,” he notes. “Generally, modernization is not working terribly well for a lot of people, and it does result in Brexit, Trump and all that sort of stuff.”
The shift is alarming, Bidwell adds, “because one perspective is these technologies are complex enough that you will see a few organizations controlling more and more of them. There is a huge barrier to entry. And I think then the only way to change is major social strife. If jobs really change as much as people say they are going to, for me the scariest piece is the political implications — the massive concentration of power that is likely to result.”
“If one wanted to look at single changes that matter a lot to work, the biggest in my view has been ideology, the shift from the idea that business had a responsibility to all stakeholders toward the idea that they have responsibility only to one – shareholders.”–Peter Cappelli