How the pandemic has accelerated the automation of some jobs

How the pandemic has accelerated the automation of some jobs

Even before the pandemic, the economy was seeing a shift to automation, as businesses sought cheaper and more efficient ways to build their products or serve more customers.

Now the pandemic has led to a staff shortage in multiple sectors and has accelerated the trend.

This means that in the future you may be more likely to order your food with a QR code, interact with a chatbot rather than a customer service person, or use a standalone kiosk in a business that may never go back to the old way. do things.

Kristen Broady, a Brookings Institution researcher, writes for The Hamilton Project about how the pandemic is accelerating this change.

For many companies, it’s an economic decision, he said. The following is an edited transcript of Broady’s conversation with Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams.

Kristen Broady: When some companies had to shut down for a while and could afford to put the technology in, many of them did. And that meant they didn’t have to worry about wage increases, unions, workers’ wages, insurance, all the kinds of things that machines don’t require.

Kimberly Adams: Are there any specific jobs or industries that run a higher automation risk than others?

Wide: Yes, absolutely. So my research focused on the 30 jobs that employ the most people in the United States that have the highest automation risk scores and also the 30 jobs that employ the most people with the highest automation risk scores. bass. And so the first five jobs I listed were for jobs with a high risk of being automated. If you want to talk about low-risk jobs, again, regardless of profit, non-profit, etc., jobs that are not at risk or much less at risk of being automated are jobs such as elementary and middle school teachers, registered nurses, chief executive officers, first line supervisors, marketing and sales managers, physicians and surgeons. These are some of the best that have a very low risk of being automated.

Adams: With this in mind, how much of the increase in automation speed is due to the tight labor market versus the reduction in the cost of the tools needed for automation?

Wide: So I think workers are demanding higher wages as they should, but at the same time technology is getting cheaper which means some jobs are being changed or eliminated due to automation. I am not saying that all jobs or even most jobs will be automated, but many of them will be changed and increased due to automation.

Adams: Since the jobs you found in your search are at the highest risk of automation, are there any demographic trends that tell us who will be most affected by the change?

Wide: Black and Hispanic workers represent 13% and 18% of the workforce, respectively, but are overrepresented in 13 jobs at high risk of being automated. The jobs that have the highest risk of being automated and that employ the most people are cashiers, and that job had an automation risk score of 97, meaning 97% of the tasks associated with that job could be done by some sort of automated machine or system.

Adams: So the black workers you’ve identified as a particularly vulnerable group to some of these highly automated jobs. Any other groups that appear to be particularly at risk of losing jobs due to automation?

Wide: So I guess I want to talk about a little different risk with women, especially black and Latino women, and I’ll start with black women. So we see that they are over-represented in the customer-facing jobs that were deemed essential during the pandemic – and still are, and always have been essential – and that they pay a lower wage. And so I think of jobs as cashiers, carers of children and the elderly. So we know doctors run a very low risk of being automated, but some of these low-paying jobs can’t even be automated. You can’t automate child or elderly care, even if those jobs don’t pay much. So I guess one of the things I worried about is seeing black women and black men in these low-paying jobs that can’t necessarily be automated but can’t be done remotely either, right? So we’re seeing them earning lower wages and for now doing jobs that aren’t necessarily automated, but in the future they might be, right? Like, again, the cashiers, we’re seeing many of them morph into something else: the person who checks the people checking out rather than actually checking out. So I think we just need to understand that there are ways: training programs, higher education HBCUs, to prepare people better for jobs that will keep them safer, pay higher salary, and won’t be significantly changed or eliminated due to automation?

Adams: Moving on, how do you imagine the changes to automation in the workforce that we saw during the pandemic have remained or not?

Wide: Then the automation will continue. But it does mean that some of the people in those jobs can move on to do something else that the company offers. As if we see more planning jobs, more logistics jobs, more planning for the future with solar technology, or wind, or whatever comes next. So we just have to figure out how to transfer the people whose jobs are disappearing into these new jobs that are being created.

Related Links: More info from Kimberly Adams

Broady co-authored a report with more detail than could go into here on which jobs are most likely to be automated in the COVID-19 era.

Within the push for automation is the subset of jobs that are particularly at risk of being replaced with artificial intelligence. VentureBeat has a history of it. And it’s not just blue-collar workers or high-risk jobs. The author claims that AI-generated writing is virtually indistinguishable from human writing at this point.

Which means I should probably improve skills right now.

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