Great Resignation, bah Humbug!
It’s likely to be the Great Replacement — workers beware.
The Promise and the Hope
You’ve just quit your dead-end, miserably low wage, annoying job. Congratulations and welcome to the Great Resignation! You and everyone like you, are the vanguard of the movement wresting power from the faceless, multibillion dollar global corporate behemoths and back to the individual worker who certainly needs and deserves far more money to ensure they can have a reasonably happy life with their loved ones, without working multiple jobs and enduring hapless tyrannical managers.
Headlines scream in triumph about the 21st century “Workers Revolution”, which has led to staffing shortages in low wage, service jobs everywhere from fast food restaurants to airport check in and security. Lumped into this has been the higher turnover in high skilled jobs like computer programmers, data scientists, pilots and more. These two trends and “resignations” couldn’t be more different.
The likely impact; an unintended consequence
Bah Humbug! You have just hastened the end of jobs for entry level, lower skilled workers in the largest markets in the world.
The turnover in highly skilled, creative professions are likely to lead to long term changes in employment conditions, the expected outcomes: higher wages, more benefits, worker flexibility and upward mobility. And for the short term, the next few years, it will look like it’s true for both. But corporations are already starting and will significantly increase their investment in automation, self-service and robotics to replace these “high” wage replaceable roles.
Fully automated kitchens, check-ins and security is inevitable
Given that consumers around the world continue to demand faster, cheaper products within specific quality levels and are getting more adept at navigating mobile apps and kiosks, corporations will have no choice but to accelerate their automation projects. It’s not (just) the higher wages, but the lack of reliable supply of labor when it’s necessary. Amazon is widely expected, at current turnover, to run out of potential workers in certain parts of the United States for its warehouse operations (imagine, you’ve hired almost anyone who can be hired — now what?). [https://www.vox.com/recode/23170900/leaked-amazon-memo-warehouses-hiring-shortage]
Since corporations cannot depend on people to staff kitchens, make beds or check in or screen passengers, they will automate. It’s not difficult to imagine investment in automated kitchens that can make meals with minimal human intervention, or airlines that eliminate check in staff, or airports that have fully automated identity verification, security screening. And this is coming sooner than you think. Large “capital intensive” industries like automotive manufacturing have already largely automated their assembly lines, resulting in significant decreases in compensation for auto industry workers.
What about breakdowns and creativity?
But what about technology breakdowns, or hackers you say…. That’s just a programming problem though, for which the companies will hire more and better programmers to fix the resilience, security issues. They won’t stop automating just because of a handful of glitches compared with the challenge of managing hundreds/thousands of high turnover, “high” wage positions that cannot easily scale to absorb peak time rushes. And if you truly believe it can’t happen to your profession — ever used an ATM to take out cash? Imagine how many bank tellers we’d need if it wasn’t for ATMs…
The automation boulder has been rolling downhill for quite a while, it’s now gathering speed. More and more positions will be taken up by this — and if you think it’s only low wage jobs that are at risk, think again. Every position or task that is highly repetitive, based on pattern recognition is likely to be automated: code tester, radiologists and many more are seeing significant automation in their fields.
The Great Replacement has just begun.
Can we do anything about it? Well, stopping it is definitely not an option. Employers will still need humans (for the foreseeable future). The roles they need them in will change: Instead of needing 100 humans in a role, there will be 5 or 10 “supervisors” who are trained to intervene when exceptions occur. The software that is being built, however, will need 100 humans to create.
Governments, corporations and individuals will need to work together to create the solution where we see a new “Renaissance” rather than a bleak dystopian, blighted future.