Video Killed the Radio Star: Will Automation Kill the Labor Force?

by Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Contact

Seyfarth Synopsis: Automation is redefining the workplace. While some may fear that automation will displace workers, automation can enhance a company’s workforce and improve productivity. In this segment, we examine industry changes resulting from an automated workforce and identify future trends.

Many of us remember our neighborhood video store closing its doors, forever changing the way we select our Friday night entertainment. Today, we can stream a new movie release from the comfort of our own home or interact with a large red kiosk after picking up groceries at the local supermarket. Automation seems inevitable and appears to be spanning most industries.

Automation has already reduced the number of workers throughout the manufacturing industry—brightest on the radar these days being the reduction in the labor force needed by the coal industry. That trend is likely to continue. But in recent years, automation has become more widespread. Retailers are closing their brick and mortar stores to do online business. And self-checkout aisles at grocery stores are ubiquitous. Should these changes be welcomed or feared?

While recent news articles and economists’ predictions can fuel the anxiety of the American worker, there is reason to be optimistic when examining this trend as a whole. Economist David Autor reminds us that prior stages of technological growth did not devastate, but rather transformed, the U.S. labor force. If we look to the past, we can find numerous examples of when invention and improvements were feared for reasons similar to those espoused today:  mass production of the automobile, mechanical harvesting in agriculture, and more recently the advent of ATMs replacing bank tellers. Rather than displacing an entire population, these innovations improved productivity and created new job functions for workers that enabled them to increase their economic value.

Such promise appears possible with automation in the retail industry. For example, Lowes recently rolled out the “LoweBot,” an automated robot that helps customers find products. It even assists employees with inventory-related tasks. Rather than simply eliminate the store’s employees, though, Lowes states that LoweBots augment the customer service the company can provide. A LoweBot can tell a customer what aisle to find paint brushes, but staff can demonstrate their expertise and offer suggestions for customers’ at-home projects.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the sometimes frustrating self-checkout aisles are enhancing the customer’s experience by automatically reading what’s in the customer’s basket without the need to scan each item.

Anticipated Trends Resulting from an Automated Workforce

Change is inevitable, and often difficult to embrace. A fitting analogy comes from the introduction of music on television by MTV. On the one hand, it may have killed the radio star, as the Buggles so eloquently put it. But at the same time MTV made music accessible to a larger audience. To succeed, musicians had to be open to evolve and master the new visual medium. Similarly, the era of the American worker isn’t coming to an end, but it may be in transition. This new workforce, like the musicians facing a video age in the 80’s, may need to develop new specializations and skills to obtain those future positions.

Automation is here and it’s changing the labor landscape: “we can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far.” But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here are some trends future employers can consider as they step into the age of automation:

Potential uptick in age discrimination claims. Jobs augmented with some form of automation will likely require greater proficiency in technology. Some speculate that this will put older workers disproportionately at risk because of the belief that younger workers are more adept with technology. This perception, coupled with the aging of the baby boomer generation, may increase the number of age discrimination filings. Employers may need to monitor the latent effects of any new policies, including those relating to worker’s expectations, more closely. In choosing a qualified applicant, employers can ask questions about an applicant’s technological skills, since those questions necessarily concern the applicant’s ability to perform job-related functions. However, hiring committees should ensure their decisions are guided by business needs and not assumptions about an applicant’s grasp of technology based on their age.

Increase in workplace safety. Automation of dangerous tasks should improve safety in manufacturing, distribution and other industries, which keeps workers safe. A decrease in the number of injuries on worksites should be accompanied by a decrease in the number of worker’s compensation claims. In addition, automation should also serve to improve companies’ compliance with OSHA regulations.

Retraining or cross-training current workforce. New jobs are likely to require specialized skills to build and fix the new technology. Employers can begin to offer training programs to their workforce to ease the transition into the emerging jobs created in response to a more automated industry. This would be an efficient way for employers to retain their workforce and combat the negative effects of high-turnover and understaffing. An early investment in cross-training may both build skills that help both workers increase career mobility and allow the company to meet its demand for skilled workers.

New job types. The roll-out of new technology in the workplace is likely to generate new types of jobs with new functions and areas. Workers will be needed to maintain, fix, and repair new technology.

Edited by Michael G. Cross.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Seyfarth Shaw LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Contact
more
less

Seyfarth Shaw LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.