Technological Unemployment A modern epidemic or an opportunity for change?*

The recession in Greece and the credit crunch in the UK, the US in 2008 and Asia in 2015 share a common denominator. The largest building blocks of the economy had to make staffing cuts, not just because “the numbers didn’t work out”, but because they could. The reason businesses were and are able to do this is due to the fact they can now access more cost-efficient resources to achieve their desired results. Normally, reducing labour costs should lead to staffing up and an increase in turnover. However, we have observed that the opposite is often the case.

When employers in a specific market are able to attain their targets by finding cheaper means of production that equal or better the outcome achieved by human resources, often by using machines, then we observe the effect of technological unemployment. The previous period in which humanity felt the tremors of technological unemployment was during the Industrial Revolution, when a machine could replace ten employees. The Western industrialised nations that faced this issue most intensely were countries that needed two or three decades to invent novel professions. Inevitably, these professions materialised in the services sector since industrial production and agriculture were catered for by machines.

Today, the services sector has also been inundated by machines, computers, robots, etc. Robotics and Computer Science work feverishly to replace services that only humans were able to perform until now, as well as providing affordable solutions to businesses. Thus, technological unemployment has evolved and constitutes anything a computer can produce equally well as and with less expense than a human. This now applies to all fields and sciences.

Through its extensive research which began in 1995, the αriston project, the think tank of hyphen SA, based in Solihull, UK, has already shown how we can be one step ahead of machines: through continual specialisation in the creation of new content. Machines can replace human resources, but only by using something that humans have already invented. Thus, innovation and new content provide the solution to technological unemployment.

Focusing on non-formal education, Skills 2020 embodies this precisely: how we will train each student and job market candidate to consistently develop the skills necessary for an irreplaceable role, one in which they can compose and produce new content within their own field.

Concurrently, we should not overlook the large geographic contraction brought on by the internet. For a company to gain access to the most cost-effective means of production, finding a machine to replace an employee is not the only solution. The company can also locate a more cost-effective region where staffing is more reasonably priced and the same expertise can be found for half the cost. In this way, a candidate must master the additional skill of familiarisation with the new media climate, enabling them to operate in virtual business and training environments. For example, a project team can be composed of five different nationalities and located in five different parts of the world, but it can still operate through a Business Skype session. This has created the emerging need for the development of skills such as cross-cultural competency – respect for another religion, language and, in general, the culture of the collaborating parties.

We are therefore forced to innovate and move forward. This is the self-righteous punishment of humanity for its moral, intellectual, spiritual and educational stagnation.

*Excerpt from the protifora αriston project radio course.

by Yannis Stergis, President & CEO, hyphen SA


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