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A Jobless Future? Technology and the Destruction of Jobs

Will increasingly advanced technology replace youth in the workforce?

Photo of Sarah Klein
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Thomas's Perspective

Thomas* is the director of a social enterprise, is an MBA holder, and is an all-around smart guy. He is often in the position of making hiring decisions. Daily, he must make managerial choices that keep his enterprise relevant and sustainable in job creation and service provision in L.A.'s economy. 


The Problem with Technology 

While interviewing Thomas, he summarized research that shows that technology oftentimes destroys more jobs in the long-term than it creates in the short-term. He gave the example of car manufacturing.

A car manufacturing plant in the U.S.'s midwest may have employed 500 people in the 1950s. When this manufacturing plant was outsourced to China in the 2000s, it may have employed 500 people in China. Upon the manufacturing plant's return to the U.S. in, say, 2013, technological advancement in the U.S. now enables the manufacturing plant to run more efficiently and more productively -- with only 200 workers as opposed to the original 500. 

This article from the MIT Technology Review echoes Thomas's example and postulation. 


Technology Vocational Training

After interviewing Thomas, I was immediately concerned with the huge nation-wide push for technology vocational training in secondary education, especially in California. The more advanced technology gets, the more it may be able to replace human jobs, so excess training of youth in technology vocations may not be a sustainable pathway to employment. With continuing technological advancement, our economy may not need young people to work. 


What Does Our Future Look Like? 

Technological innovation will probably not slow down, and this is good. There are tremendous benefits to technological advancement and related increases in productivity and efficiency. 

In his interview, Thomas said that therefore, in terms of jobs, we must start to think of solutions other than employment to enable youth to make healthy, productive social contributions. We must think beyond the institution of work to give young people and our future sustenance. 

I think that these contributions may take the form of creative ones in arts, culture, etc. I believe that technology will never be able to replicate the illogical process that is creative and artistic creation, and therefore, this may be a currency that enables human beings to contribute to our world alongside technology. 


What Do You Think? 

I was once told by an anthropology professor that some theories find brilliance not in their accuracy but in their ability to shatter assumptions. While this theory may seem extreme to some, how do you think it has broken down our assumptions about technology in positive ways in relation to youth employment? 

* Thomas is an alias used in this interview to protect his privacy. 

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Photo of Sarah Klein

Hi Shane,

I think that you make a great point about technology amplifying unique human behaviors. I hadn't thought of it, and I'll be sure to tell Thomas about the though it next time I see him! I definitely have some food for thought now...

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