Job Displacement Threat

(Another article on manufacturing and jobs)

The use of robots in factories is not likely to cause large job displacement, as the process of using robots in factories has evolved over a period of 30 to 50 years, with robots still primarily used for repetitive operations. See Robots inManufacturing.

If there is a threat to jobs, it probably comes from elsewhere.

The University of Oxford’s Martin School, in England, predicted that computerization would eliminate nearly half the jobs in the U.S. over the next 20 years.

As already noted, this seems very unlikely, even when considering concepts such as Uber, autonomous vehicles and deep learning.

Off-highway vehicles, used in mining, etc., have been singled out for conversion to autonomous vehicles. It should be noted that off-highway vehicles follow repetitive routes using GPS or other electronic means, including LiDAR and RADAR, for accurate location of the vehicle as it moves. Their environment is relatively controlled, when compared with autonomous vehicles used on highways where the surrounding environment is constantly changing.

Accuracy for autonomous vehicles may mean a few inches, while for robots used in manufacturing, accuracy will mean a fraction of an inch. This is an important distinction.

While truck drivers may lose jobs, other new jobs will be created and the productivity of the mining operation will be improved by eliminating, for example, unnecessary stopping and starting, and waiting during shift changes, etc.

But, the situation may be different if long-haul 18 wheelers, are replaced by autonomous trucks.

Freightliner Truck, Courtesy of Freightliner Corporation
Freightliner Truck, Courtesy of Freightliner Corporation

If long-haul autonomous trucks become ubiquitous, millions of truck driver jobs could be lost. Freightliner board member, ­Wolfgang Bernhard, predicted that production of autonomous 18 wheeler trucks is only “two, to three years away.”

There is a view that the potential for job displacement could become more pronounced if the family car becomes an autonomous vehicle.

However, the transition of family cars to autonomous vehicles should require considerable time. The recent high-profile hacking of a Jeep ­Cherokee demonstrates there are many obstacles and threats to autonomous vehicles on major highways or in crowded city traffic. And there is the recent fatality involving a Tesla vehicle.

The more extreme view, that many  jobs will be lost, has been expressed by Barcaly’s Capital, which predicted:

“With autonomous vehicles shared between family members and across communities, [coupled with the proliferation of Uber and similar concepts], autonomous vehicles will displace much of the current fleet of privately owned cars.”

Barclay’s Capital went on to say:

“Annual auto sales in the United States could decline by as much as 40 percent, and there would be a 60-percent drop in the total number of vehicles on the road.”

If this becomes reality, there will be a huge displacement of workers.

But that forecast seems extreme.

While Uber may displace car ownership in cities, it seems unlikely that it will have the same effect in the suburbs and rural areas.

People will still need to go to the local dry cleaners or grocery store, and won’t want to call Uber or a driverless taxi for a ride. Autonomous vehicles can be a godsend for the elderly who can’t drive because of poor eyesight or slow reflexes.

Forecasting a dramatic drop in car ownership seems to be a radical view of the future.

If it required 30 to 50 years for factory automation, with the use of robots for repetitive operations, to become common place, it’s likely to require a comparable amount of time for autonomous vehicles to replace the family car.

The idea that every American should be given an annual grant to compensate for job displacement seems inappropriate, counter productive and unworkable.

Without addressing where the money for such grants will come from, let’s look at better alternatives.

As with the use of robots in factories, new jobs will be created, where many of the new jobs can’t be envisioned at this time.

Historically, this is the way the country has confronted change. For example, the transition from horses to automobiles displaced workers, but created new opportunities.

Many sweepers pushing brooms in the factory were replaced with ride-on sweepers, and so forth.

A better way to prepare for the future, than with grants of taxpayer money, is by preparing people for the new jobs that frequently require higher levels of technical skills.

Education should be tailored to the new reality of a technology driven economy.

Expensive college courses that are no better than basket weaving which lead to low-paying, menial jobs are inappropriate in a technology driven economy. They rob from the student and leaves him ill-equipped for the future.

Mathematics, engineering, and science need to be emphasized, along with vocational training for the jobs that can’t be done by robots, of which there will be many, such as welding and tool and die makers. History, especially American history, must be taught to prepare students for a vibrant economy where work is rewarded.

Robots at McDonalds and other fast food stores will eliminate introductory jobs and temporary jobs for students, so, perhaps, vocational training can be supported to compensate for these lost introductory jobs.

Rather than stifling the work ethic with government handouts, let’s prepare people for the technology driven future.

When appropriate, additional articles will focus on manufacturing and the new, high-tech economy. Meanwhile, articles on energy issues will remain the primary focus.

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