I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Can Our Education System Facilitate the Upcoming "New Industrial Revolution?"

The January 18th edition of the Economist contained a number of fascinating articles about automation and its effects on labor.  The really interesting thing--lost in the huge push for "income equality" that seems to be en vogue today-- is the fact that the situation for unskilled laborers will deteriorate rapidly over the next two decades. Placate the masses with a pay bump today that portends a bleak near-term future.  It is history repeating itself, as outlined perfectly in the two articles linked above.

Naive and ignorant politicians like to give speeches about how minimum wages need to be lifted, about how we need more "income equality" and "higher living wages"-- however this push to pay the unskilled more will only lead to higher unemployment for these unskilled in the near term, along with more automation to replace these same workers. Like Oscar Goldman famously proclaimed decades ago, "We can build it, we have the technology!"                          
So push for $12.00 cashiers at McDonald's and you will get an order taking ATM style machine like at the self checkout line at Wal-Mart--and there go the high school employees.  Push for a $12.00 per hour bank teller, and you will soon get a lobby full of attractive, attentive tellers that are all capable and pleasant....and also happen to be robots. Push for bus drivers that are paid $15.00 to start, and you will get "Google Busses" driven by robots.

The drive for more income equality will actually work to accelerate the achievement of the opposite condition, because in the short-term the benefits of automation go to the capitalists, the rich and upper middle-class skilled workers.  And people who clamor for "more income equality"  are glib, like a bunch of rustics....they don't even see this coming.

Burger flippers, ditch diggers, and many others will go the way of the dinosaur.  Gone.

It's coming.

What about teachers--will they be on the endangered list?  I think that will depend upon what teachers teach.

But how can the education system of today help?  What about the displaced workers? From the Economist:

"...One recent study by academics at Oxford University suggests that 47% of today's jobs could be automated in the next two decades..The main way in which governments can help their people through this dislocation is through education systems...there should be less rote-learning and more critical thinking.  Technology itself will help, whether through MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) or even video games that stimulate the skills needed for work"

One important thing that policymakers must do right away is to emphasize training in the career academies in disciplines that are least likely to be automated within the next two decades.  I think here in Escambia County we  are on the right track with this.  We have academies for Electricians, AC/Heating techs, Body and Fender work, and many other skilled trades that will be difficult to automate.

The chart on page 26 of the Economist article lists those occupations at greatest risk for being replaced:  telemarketers, accountants, retail salespersons, real estate agents, word processors and typists, and machinists.  Looks like robots will be doing many of these jobs, thanks to the push this technology is getting from politicians who are trying to socially engineer equal outcomes instead of equal opportunities.

And the winners will be?  Robots!  (hopefully the nice ones, not the sky-net, terminator variety)


Alice said...

There are some problems both with the article and with Jeff's response to it. The author assumes that our economy, based on supply and demand of goods, has changed only through the introduction of technology. The reality is that much of the wealth being generated today has nothing to do with manufacturing goods. For example, Mark Zuckerberg, according to Forbes, is worth $19 billion, but employees only 6200 people. This Forbes list also includes other billionaires who have created wealth through social media, employing relatively few workers.

In contrast, consider the auto industry, which, at its height, quite literally kept the state of Michigan afloat.

It's for these reasons I believe the article may be "much ado about nothing." Our society is changing in enormous ways, ways we can't begin to understand,much less prepare for.

One economic problem we could deal with immediately: the tax credits given to corporations that outsource their labor to other countries.

In the meantime, what are the minimum-wage workers supposed to do as the cost of living continues to rise? I hope your answer is not that they should have gotten a better education. Not too many school systems are supplying that these days.

Jeff Bergosh said...

I thought the article spotlighted in stark fashion the changes that are coming and the jobs that are at risk of becoming obsolete. And if one thinks of the context, new ideas are constantly emerging, just as they did in during the industrial revolution. Facebook is a newer concept that has created incredible wealth for a few, just as the automobiles you mentioned, that did not exist at the start of the industrial revolution, created wealth for their creators in the beginning of the 1900 s. Only today, the difference is our ability to automate is rapidly advancing, outpacing what previous generations could even imagine.