The dilemma of education and unskilled labor in the U.S. is one that everyone needs to be involved in, and one that everyone nees to understand fully.
Unskilled labor is fast becoming a commodity that is no longer in demand. In order to make money, you must have something to sell that others want. Gone are the days that one can expect to make a reasonable living working on an assembly line, working without advanced education. A high-school diploma is no longer valuable - even a bachelor's degree is considered average.
I expect my daughters to know how to read at least some words before kindergarten. My four-year-old is already reading at a rudamentary level. Parents need to be involved with their children's development and not rely on a public government-run institution that is our educational system. Such a system is dumbed-down to the lowest level to make sure the weakest can get through. It has become a pathetic attempt to make everyone feel "good". It's not good, and parents need to raise the bar. After all, parents are responsible for children's education, not the government.
Good comments, Dave. This article, interestingly, prompted a quite a few comments about education. In the human-against-the-machine march through history, your best bet is to be creating or running the machine. K-12, indeed, but 12 isn't enough. The bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma.
I agree, the picture is complex. It's the old John Henry and the engine story. At a certain point, automation displaces human workers in repetitive motion work. One of the big questions facing our country is whether the government has a role or a responsibility in helping displaced workers prepare themselves to compete for high-skilled jobs as their once-high-paying jobs go away. The alternative to gaining a more marketable skill set is shifting to a lower-paying non-skilled jobs -- moving from the plant to Walmart or McDonald's.
I would call the statement that robotics will create a million jobs a lie. The robotics industry itself will probably not create more than a few thousand jobs. Robots used to improve quality will undoubtedly create tens of thousands of jobs, POSSIBLY. but the million claim is made to increase share prices to make the boards look better.
Robots do replace low priced labor, and they do improve quality by being much more accurate and repeatable. So they certainly do replace a lot of low end marginally skilled workers.
The jobs that are part of the robotics industry are very much high end. Even the labor building the robots is fairly high end, a bit higher than auto company assembly line work, for sure. The design of robots is much higher end, at the level of folks who are never out of work. The jobs created supporting the assembly lines that use many robots will be someplace in between, but they will not come close to outnumbering the number of lower level workers displaced by the robots.
Of course the profits will increase, but that is not the same, is it?
The thing about jobs and economics and all, is that none of this takes place in a vacuum. Workers paid low enough wages don't pay taxes, and don't buy houses and pay property taxes, all of which drains local and not so local economies. Low educational levels put the brakes on economic growth not only by shrinking available talent pools, but also by shrinking available dollars to spend, and those consumer dollars are what hold up 2/3 of the national economy. This is becoming as highly visible in my mostly-blue collar county as it is in Flint, Michigan.
I hope the robotics industry didn't pay very much for this study, because it doesn't appear to be worth much. If you actually read the report, you can see that the numbers are all just ballpark estimates -- "we do not claim that these numbers are exact, but they are likely to be the right order of magnitude" is a phrase which is frequently used -- and the categories are so poorly defined as to be meaningless. It's not even written in gramatical English!
A much more compelling argument would be that robotics increases overall economic output, which creates jobs by growing the economy as a whole. I think a very strong case could be made for this. Economics is not a zero-sum game. By increasing productivity, you increase the overall volume of economic activity, which should create opportunities at all levels.
Of course, as many readers have already pointed out, without a broad level of education and technical literacy, not everyone is positioned to take advantage of these opportunities. And regardless of what you may think an acceptable level of income inequality is, low educational levels could put the brakes on economic growth by shrinking the available talent pool.
So, once again, we're back to the necessity of fixing K-12 education. Funny how often it comes back to this, isn't it?
Yes, I would imagine the breed of jobs created by the robotics industry includes primarily technical jobs. I think this is very much a parallel of the computer industry, where clerical jobs were cut and technical job proliferated.
The low-tech jobs are being threatened on a number of fronts, from outsourcing to automation. Tech jobs, meanwhile, seem to be holding up OK. One sign is that unemployment for those with college degrees is under 5 percent.
Rob, I think that's an interesting parallel with the computer industry. Yes, it did take a couple of decades for that industry to displace clerical jobs that were "replaced" by technical jobs. The problem I have with looking at it the economists' way is, the people who lost the clerical jobs did not go back to school and become candidates for the technical jobs. In other words, there was a big shift from clerical and blue collar to higher-paying white collar jobs as there has been throughout the country, beginning earlier with industries such as steel. That's left a lot of people with non-career, part-time, low-paying jobs, many of whom at one time had better paying, full time clerical and/or blue-collar jobs. In any case, the picture is a complex one.
Skepticism can be healthy...to a point. Suspecting spin up-front can be good. However, the 70-page report done by London-based Metra Martech is only two clicks away -- the link in the press release takes you to the same press release on the International Federation of Robotics website. The link to the report PDF is at the bottom of that page. You will find plenty of charts and tables and text, including data challenges encountered and decisions made to resolve those challenges. Some content might reduce your skepticism, or tend to increase it. Either way, your thinking about it beyond an initial impression will be worthy. One tidbit: the U.S. lags other countries in the use of robots, BTW, I have no relationship to the aurhors or IFR -- and didn't even know about this study until I read it in DesignNews email. Thanks for posting it!
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