Tech creates, destroys jobs
Published: Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 05:12
Technological advancements have always created newer, more efficient means of performing tasks, but automation sometimes makes jobs traditionally given to people obsolete.
Whether automation in the name of efficiency is good or bad depends on the situation, said director of Career Services Matthew Brink.
A development economics concept known as the Luddite Fallacy states that labor-saving technology increases unemployment because fewer workers are needed. However, Brink said effects are not as clear-cut, and sometimes increased technological capabilities can create jobs as well.
"It's not necessarily a one size fits all," Brink said
Brink said when automation replaces a job done previously by people, automation technology does need human creation, resulting in a new set of jobs.
Sometimes, however, those holding jobs lost to automation aren't qualified for that newly-created employment, he said. Tollbooth workers replaced by the E-ZPass system or grocers replaced by self-checkout lines often fall in that category, leaving them with few options.
"They can find other similar jobs that have yet to automate where their skill-sets are transferrable, or they can think about re-tooling their skills through training programs or mentoring," Brink said.
Another less visible area Brink said has fallen prey to automation is agriculture. He said large corporate farms that have replaced the smaller, family-owned farms use more machinery to increase their output and decrease the amount of humans needed, therefore increasing profits.
"The amount of crop that could come up from one acre multiple years ago is exponentially more now because of technology, automation and research," he said.
Economics professor James Butkiewicz said technology has changed the types of jobs performed, but it has not necessarily had a detrimental effect on job creation.
"There are all of these jobs that used to be there that aren't there anymore," Butkiewicz said. "But we still have employment."
He also said fears about automation replacing all jobs date back to at least the 1950s. He said these fears may be because machines provide advantages that people cannot.
"Machines show up for work the Monday morning after the Superbowl, some people do not," Butkiewicz said. "They don't take off early on Fridays, and they don't require health care."
Mechanical engineering professor Michael Keefe said technology must be applied strategically, so as to provide the most social benefit. He said that just because a job could be done by machines, it's sometimes beneficial to retain human employment.
"I don't think there should be a limit to it, but I don't think it should be unbridled," Keefe said.
The advancement of technology is generally a good thing because it can automate monotonous tasks and inspire more people to join the technological field, he said, but also said it can be negative.
"Like anything else, science is kind of neutral," he said. "It can be used for good, it can be used for evil."
Freshman Brenden Strick, a leadership major, said he believes technology has little net result on jobs, because jobs are both added and eliminated. He said thinks it hurts the blue-collar working class, however.
"It brings more jobs requiring education and less labor which hurts the lower classes," Strick said.
Butkiewicz said it's difficult to balance the positive results of mechanization with its negative effects on human employment.
"Should we freeze the progress of history at this point so everybody has a job, should we have done that 150 years ago?" Butkiewicz said. "When we invented automobiles we put a lot of people out of work."
He said while technology will make some jobs obsolete, people will always find some other way to use their skills.
"It has freed us to be professors and college students and pursue all of the other careers that we want," he said. "So technology has been wonderful in that regard."