The United States faces a protracted unemployment crisis: 6.3 million fewer Americans have jobs than was true at the end of 2007. And yet the country’s economic output is higher today than it was before the financial crisis. Where did the jobs go? Several factors, including outsourcing, help explain the state of the labor market, but fast-advancing, IT-driven automation might be playing the biggest role.
There are no easy answers to this problem. Employment is becoming a game of musical chairs in which automation (along with other other drivers) is pulling chairs out of the ring while the tempo of the music gets faster and faster.
But the solution (or at least part of the solution) may lie in how the problem is framed in the passage quoted above. We’re producing more than we did in 2007, and with a smaller workforce. It’s entirely possible that come 2017, we’ll be producing even more with an even smaller workforce. The trick is to produce something new. Of course, it it still has to be needed, wanted, etc. — “new” alone won’t cut it.
The idea is that if you can produce something that automation hasn’t caught up with yet, there is a place for you in the workforce until automation does catch up. That sounds really hard and iffy, but maybe that’s only because it assumes a somewhat different perspective than the one we’ve had. Once upon a time, having a job required (among other things) acquiring a skill set to address a defined need or set of needs. Going forward, we may have to be the ones defining the needs — and then defining the skill sets that go with them.
That definitely sounds harder, but it provides us a creative contribution to the process that we never had before.