We’re now seeing expanded press coverage and discussion about the impact of technology on workers in all types of jobs and industries. Yet I don’t think there is enough awareness across the general public or within government, especially in Washington. Awareness needs to be raised and raised fast.

People continue to blame trade and China and low-wage countries for destroying well-paying jobs, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Here in the U.S., we already see signs of a potentially enormous decrease in employment levels all across the country in hundreds of companies. Where are the former and future employees going to turn for jobs? There are always new jobs being created, but will there be enough to support our workforce? And this doesn’t just affect low-wage and middle income workers. This affects everyone up and down the salary level. Here some examples:

  • Uber, Lyft, Apple, Google, Mercedes… to name just a few, are all working on autonomous vehicles. But that’s just for cars, right? Okay, how about all those Uber and Lyft drivers? Autonomous now means your fare goes 100% to Uber. There is no driver anymore. Uber sure loves that. They get even richer. So all those drivers (and taxi drivers, mind you) are now out of a job. Mercedes. Huh? Yes, the trucking division of parent Daimler already has autonomous trucks on the road. There are approximately 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the United States. Not all will lose their jobs over time as autonomous trucks become prevalent but a huge number will. That’s a great middle income job for millions.

  • Service jobs in stores like Safeway and Whole Foods are increasingly automated. Whole Foods is opening its first “365” store in California and a number of positions formerly held by people are now computers. Want fresh brewed tea? Punch a button. Want information on cheese or wine? Consult an app, not a person behind the counter. Think of all the possible jobs out there in retail stores like Starbucks, for example, that could be replaced by robots, artificial intelligence, or computers.

  • Even lawyers are being replaced. That’s right. The high-paying jobs for people with 19+ years of education are being replaced by machines. Software is now doing the work that many entry-level associates did, such as screening documents in the discovery phase of lawsuits. The software does it faster, cheaper and better. If you don’t need as many entry-level lawyers, where will they get their feet wet and learn the business? You see this manifest itself in the huge decline in law school applicants. There just aren’t as many good jobs available for when they graduate.

Geoff Colvin, author of Powersheet by Fortune, recently queried a CEO of a major corporation about technology and how he is using it to grow and revolutionize his company. He said “we’ll have fewer people, and they’ll be doing different things. I don’t talk about that with our labor force. It’s not motivating”. No kidding, you think?

So where does that leave us and what can be done to help those who lose their jobs—the youth coming out of school, your kids? It all comes down to education, re-training and technical skills. Everyone, from high school dropouts to immigrants to college graduates to the 50-year olds who lost their jobs, must have an opportunity, an affordable opportunity, to learn new skills and be trained for the jobs that are available and will be created in the future. This will require greater funding of community colleges, vocational training institutes, school districts, you name it, so those organizations can provide training and skills to all people at serious risk of losing jobs or not having the skills necessary for the jobs that are available.

And those organizations can’t just sit back and teach what they’ve taught for the last twenty years. They need to go out, interview the local employers, find out which skills are needed, what jobs are open, where jobs will be open in the future. Then, cooperatively with those employers, create curricula that will train students to be ready to fill those jobs and then help place those students in the jobs. There is too much hands-off, teach-for-teaching’s sake. Get the administrators and department heads of all those schools out on the street, talking to companies, employers, unions, you name it, to determine what is needed. What is needed in Wichita, KS is different from Iowa City, IA is different from Downey, CA is different from Irvine, CA. Twenty miles between schools is enough to require a completely different set of training programs based on the companies and employers located nearby.

It is time for everyone to wake up and realize the revolution in jobs is on our doorstep. Everyone watches these cute Google cars (Okay, I do, since I’m surrounded by them near our office and my home.) and thinks “Awww, they are so cute and if I have one, I can text to my heart’s content while I drive to work!” or “It can’t happen to my job. My skills require years to develop. No computer can do what I do”. No, actually, a computer can do what you do and probably better and cheaper. What people don’t realize is just what that means long term for our economy. There will be new jobs created to replace the lost ones, but they will require new skills and probably some we don’t anticipate yet. The only solution is expanding the available education and training, which is going to require funding. Let’s hope our elected officials, schools and colleges realize this and start planning for the new tomorrow.

Related:
Technology could kill 5 million jobs by 2020
http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/18/news/economy/job-losses-technology-five-million/
Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck
https://medium.com/basic-income/self-driving-trucks-are-going-to-hit-us-like-a-human-driven-truck-b8507d9c5961#.dqdmqp27t
The Best Law Schools Are Attracting Fewer Students
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-26/the-best-law-schools-are-attracting-fewer-students
Power Sheet – May 13, 2016
Power Sheet – May 13, 2016