Senior Venture Architect, Louis Matthews and Senior Strategic Designer, Michael Deem discuss the current state of automation and the job market.

In May 1945, soldiers began arriving back in the United States after serving in World War II. This proved a challenging task for the country, as the economy needed to suddenly adjust to employ over 7 million people. America responded by introducing the G.I. Bill, which by 1956, had been used by more than 8 million veterans to attend colleges, universities and training programs.

In the next few years, the global economy will face a far greater stress on the workforce in the form of automation. In fact, it’s already begun. A recent study predicted that, by 2030, as many as 73 million jobs could be eliminated by automation. But the government isn’t equipped to handle supporting millions of the unemployed this time around, and corporations themselves will need to become a major part of the solution.

The role of corporates

Corporate responsibility is fundamentally changing. Where their focus used to strictly be on returning shareholder value, they now have a much greater responsibility to help address the many challenges we face today. And, as the world becomes more decentralized, corporates will only take on more of the role that government has traditionally played.

In our work with some of the world’s leading companies, we take a long view of their respective industries so we may understand how to make them more efficient, profitable and, yes, automated. But we also ask ourselves: What can we do as both disruptors and employers to ensure we don’t destroy jobs?

Through this work, we have uncovered a portfolio of strategies for ethical innovation that can be broken down into three categories:

1. Profit-sharing from productivity by reinvesting in job training

Jobs aren’t necessarily going away–they’re just shifting. Instead of accepting that innovation will kill jobs, companies should help employees develop new and needed skill sets. For example, in a recent innovation sprint, we uncovered a situation where a supervisor’s role had been replaced by a machine. But instead of the supervisor losing his job, he received training for a new one through a program funded by a portion of the profits generated through the machine.

By implementing training programs to offset automation-driven job losses, companies not only profit from the efficiency of the machines, they also make their workforce stronger and more flexible. Investing in great talent and helping employees build new skills have never been as fundamental to competitive advantage as it is today.

To this end, we encourage our corporate partners to examine their human capital strategy with an eye towards the future, asking themselves tough questions, such as:

  • What are you doing to attract and retain the talent you need to win in an increasingly automated world?
  • Are you investing enough resources to help your current workforce build the skills they need not just for today, but for the decade ahead?
  • How is your businesses leveraging new technologies and, in turn, ways of work, required to compete with the speed and agility of startups?

2.  Humans & AI working together

While AI is just one form of automation, it’s what people tend to worry about the most. Some of the fear around machines replacing humans is certainly warranted, but in many cases it’s simply being added to tasks performed by humans rather than replacing the humans themselves.

Delta’s CLEAR technology partnership is a perfect example of this concept. By introducing biometric data into the airport screening process, Delta has provided a safer and faster experience for travelers, while also creating additional jobs in the form of CLEAR agents who assist travelers who just aren’t ready to talk to robots.

While AI is great at things like manufacturing, it’s not as effective in fields like the service industry, and we still need humans to work in restaurants, hospitality and retail. Over time, this mindset will change too. Delta, for one, has already anticipated this evolution, as their rumored long play would require even more human brain power to analyze the data trove being collected.

As we continue to create new technologies that make businesses more efficient, we challenge all of our corporate partners to shift their mindset from human intelligence vs. artificial intelligence to human intelligence and artificial intelligence.

3. Further expansion into the gig economy

The idea of the “side hustle” is becoming increasingly common, and corporates are uniquely positioned to lead the introduction of more and more options in the gig economy. Because of the two sided-marketplace, these gig economy jobs are a perfect example of how you can still create jobs while introducing automation to an industry.

In the past few years, we’ve seen companies like TaskRabbit, Rover and Uber give those of all skill levels an opportunity to work in a semi-automated industry. What we have yet to see, however, is the advent of the gig economy in industries which haven’t traditionally involved humans, such as energy and finance–and this is where it starts to really get interesting!

With the disaggregation of banking and financial services, a similar force is at play: Uber and its ilk address large, underserved segments that don’t require high-touch interactions or transactions. If we want to democratize other industries and capitalize on segments of the market that will inevitably move toward automation, we need to be thinking about what skills the average American already has and can leverage to make money.

While it’s impossible to know exactly what the future of work will look like exactly, corporations that seek to implement one or all of these strategies will reap the benefit not only in their bottom line, but also in their surrounding communities by helping to preserve, create and evolve the jobs of the future.

How is your company approaching the future of work?

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