Posts tagged: jobs
You’ve probably already seen news stories floating around a couple weeks ago about how 47% of jobs are in danger of being automated. The stories are based on a report that looked at 702 different occupations and ranked them based on how likely they are to be automatable based on advances in machine learning, machine vision and robotics. I took a look through the report and thought I’d share some thoughts.
Caveats Methodology aside, the report only predicts that probability that a job could, eventually, be automated, not that it will be automated. More on that later, but for one thing it means they can’t predict how long it will take for a particular job to be displaced (they suggest it will take a decade or two, and the most automatable jobs will go first), or what percentage of people in a field will be replaced. Also, they don’t talk much about economics of replacement — whether it might be cheaper to pay humans than to buy and maintain robots for some positions. One thing I’m not sure about is whether the 47% is meant to apply to the total number of job types (if so, I’m not sure what the cut-off point is) or if it means 47% of all currently employed people are at risk of being replaced (which I think is what they actually mean).
Automation Winners and Losers According to the report the safest jobs, predictably, are in engineering, health care and creative work. Managers and supervisors are also pretty safe. Journalists are relatively safe, but my old profession — computer support — is in danger. The hardest hit will be the working class. Even skilled workers like plumbers, welders, machinists and truck drivers — the sorts of skilled workers there are reportedly shortages of — are in danger (electricians, however, are relatively safe).
Other Potential Losers It doesn’t address other supply and demand issues. For example, there are more law school graduates now than ever, so although most legal work can’t be automated, it doesn’t make law a “safe” profession. It also doesn’t address the effects of some portion of work becoming automated, thus reducing the number of people needed. To use law as an example again, software tools make the discovery process easier, reducing the number of lawyers and paralegals required to do that task. In journalism, some types of reporting have already been successfully automated. I’ve argued before that most types of writing and reporting will still need to be done by humans, but more sophisticated tools could reduce the total number of journalists required to run a profitable publication. Many types of professionals, including engineers and doctors — could be vulnerable to such disruption as well.
Social and Cultural Factors It also doesn’t address social or political trends that might protect some workers. It’s my understanding — though I could be wrong — that freight trains could operate with far fewer human workers than they do, but the union keeps humans in many roles. Likewise, unions or professional organizations could protect some careers, like taxi drivers and truckers, by pushing for legislation that requires a human operator ride along with self-driving vehicles “just in case.” Some workers, like food servers, bartenders and black jack dealers, may be preserved by cultural norms.
Doom But even if only half the jobs they believe are likely to be automatable are actually automated, that’s still about 23.5% of all types of jobs. That means things will get worse for everyone as A) more people will be competing for the jobs that are left and B) unemployed people will spend less money, reducing the demand for the products and services provided by the non-automated professions. And while the industrial revolution created many new types of jobs to help replace those displaced by machinery, there’s no guarantee that will happen again. Even if it does, it could take years for enough new jobs to emerge to replace the old ones.
I wrote for TechCrunch about the way automation and machine learning algorithms may start putting writers out of jobs:
Discovering news stories is actually the business that Narrative Science wants to get into, according to Wired, and CTO Kristian Hammond believes finding more stories will actually create more jobs for journalists. I’m not so sure. It will depend on a few things, like how much more efficient writers can be made through technology and how much risk publishers will take on “unproven” story ideas vs. safe computer generated ideas. The idea behind Current was that it could help publishers find lucrative stories to run to subsidize more substantial reporting. Of course publications will continue to run original, differentiating human written reporting. But the amount resources dedicated to that sort of content may change, depending on the economics of automation.
And the possibilities get weirder. Look at drone journalism. Today drones, if they are used at all, are just used to extend journalists capabilities, not to make us more efficient or replace us. But how could drones change, say, event or travel coverage in coming years? Will one reporter with a suitcase full of drones and a server full of AI algorithms do the work of three?
Previously: DARPA Training Computers to Write Dossiers
I write often about the need for more STEM education in order to match graduates with actual jobs, but the reality is that the “S” part of the acronym doesn’t necessarily have a lot of openings. At least not in academia. Julianne Dalcanton writes:
Recent reports and articles have generated a lot of buzz about the difficulty of finding employment in the sciences. These articles mirror the anxieties of the young astronomy community with whom I am most familiar. Scientists are not stupid and are pretty good with data, so they can look at the number of graduate students, the number of postdoctoral positions, and the number of faculty ads, and correctly assess that the odds of winding up with a long-term academic position are not good.
However, difficulty finding a “long term academic position” is not the same thing as difficulty finding a job. Buried in those same articles is the fact that the unemployment rate for physicists (which likely mirrors that of astronomers) is between 1-2%. In contrast, the lab-based biologists and chemists (which are the focus of the articles) are not finding employment at all, or if they do, it’s frequently in a position that makes no use of their technical skills.
In other words, science graduates are facing many of the same problems that Phds in the humanities face. Dalcanton goes on to note that many physics and astronomy majors are finding lucartive careers in the private sector, paritcularly in the technology industry. Ashlee Vance wrote about this phenomena for Business Week last year. I agree that it’s sad that so many smart people are ending up devoting their careers to figuring out how to get people to click ads, but as I wrote last year there’s an interesting upside: lots and lots of open source big data tools.
Earlier this year David Graeber wrote about why science and technology seemed stalled compared to our science fictional imaginations and quotes astrophysicist Jonathan Katz:
You will spend your time writing proposals rather than doing research. Worse, because your proposals are judged by your competitors, you cannot follow your curiosity, but must spend your effort and talents on anticipating and deflecting criticism rather than on solving the important scientific problems… It is proverbial that original ideas are the kiss of death for a proposal, because they have not yet been proved to work.
In other words, you might be better off in the private sector wrangling click stream data than you would be grinding out proposals to do essentially nothing in academia. Le sigh.
The New York Times reports:
“Companies all over are having a difficult time recruiting the kind of people they’re looking for,” said Robert Funk, chairman and chief executive of Express Employment Professionals, a national staffing firm based in Oklahoma City that helped some 335,000 people land jobs last year. “We currently have 18,000 open job orders we can’t fill.”
But why the difficulties? We keep hearing about high skilled, high tech positions like computer programming and petroleum engineering going unfilled, but how could it be that more “humdrum” jobs aren’t getting filled? Later paragraphs in the story give us some clues.
Although the people quoted blame the shortage of truck drivers on the fact that it’s unglamorous and you have to pass a drug test, I think these details give us a pretty big clue:
That challenge is magnified because insurance companies typically require drivers to have up to two years of experience driving a truck before they will cover them, Mr. Hoag said. While larger companies can afford to train drivers, Mr. Hoag said he relied on Craigslist and a Minneapolis recruiter to find them — but the recruiter, he said, “is struggling to find people, too.”
How are people supposed to get two years of experience if no one will insure them without two years of experience? How do employers expect to find “qualified” truckers if they’re not willing to spend money on training? Trucking is a lonely, often miserable job but I’m sure there are millions of unemployed Americans who can pass a drug test and would love the opportunity to support their families on a trucker’s wage.
There’s apparently a shortage of machine operators as well:
Mr. Greenblatt currently has five openings for machine operators, positions that don’t require college degrees but pay, on average, about $60,000. What candidates do need are skills like the ability to operate a computer, read a blueprint and use a caliper. […]
“My operators are in constant contact with our customers, so they need to be able to articulate through e-mail,” Mr. Greenblatt said. “But you’d be surprised at how many people can’t do that. I can’t have them e-mailing Boeing or Pfizer if their grammar is terrible.”
You can chalk some of this up to writing, even if it’s just e-mail, being really hard. But this is an indictment of the education system. Why do we have so few people who can respond to customer e-mails?
Photo by Mike Linkovich
New one from me at Wired:
Some people believe that everyone should be a programmer. But Frank Duff is living proof this notion should be taken with a large grain of salt. In 2003, Duff quit his job as a software developer and went to work as a bike messenger.
Two years later, he published an online memoir detailing his exit from the software world, and it became an instant internet classic, reflecting the desire of many developers and other white-collar workers to somehow escape their office cubicles and do something “real.”
“Even before Office Space, white collar workers peered out the window (if they were so lucky) and imagined a more romantic life doing real work out under the sun,” he wrote.
Since Duff published his memoir, we’ve seen a mini-movement across the tech world that seeks to turn just about everyone into a programmer. A startup called Codecademy is offering online programming lessons designed for the average person. Google is pushing visual programming tools such as a Blockly and App Inventor that let you code without even a single keystroke. And a Facebook engineer named Carlos Bueno recently published a book that seeks to bring the programming ethos to children as young as five. Duff sees some value in the idea of universal “code literacy,” but he also urges moderation.
“Should everyone learn to code? I certainly wouldn’t make it mandatory,” he says. “[But] I encourage people to learn to code, just as I would encourage them to learn to drive, knit, and shoot.”
Nine years after quitting his full-time programming job back in 2003, Duff tells Wired that he still codes from time to time, but he has no regrets. Leaving the programming world freed him to do so many other things. “I think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever need to rely on my ability to write code to feed myself again,” Duff says. “But it’s a skill set I’m grateful to have.”
Coder in Courierland, Duff’s original post about his time as a courier
Lysergically Yours the novel Duff wrote while couriering.
Messenger space, messenger body, messenger mesh Another article on couriering.
So many of these blogs seem to be written by people who work in their pajamas or by people with no opportunity cost to blog (they’re either financially independent already or stay-at-home parents). These are both great things, but I don’t hear much from a Joe Sixpack schlub with a 9-to-5 like me. Instead, there’s a lot of Tim Ferris-type noise about how us poor saps who go out and punch a clock are the suckers. […]
I realized that the job I loved so much was actually destroying me. I was living an emotional roller-coaster ride every day. The stress was incredible because of the constant mood whiplash. Most importantly, I realized I had become entirely cynical of the whole public school enterprise. That’s when I knew that I had to get out. […]
It took some painful life lessons and some hard financial times to learn that doing what you love is, in fact, absolutely not the paradigm we need to follow as individuals or a society. Instead, get out there and grab what affords you the most opportunities to be the best overall person you can be.
For a report titled “An economy that works: Job creation and America’s future,” McKinsey Global Instititute conducted research that included sector analysis, interviews with human resource executives, a survey of business leaders and the firm’s own scenario analysis and modeling.
According to McKinsey, the U.S would need to create 21 million new jobs to put unemployed Americans back to work and employ a growing population. Only the most optimistic scenario shows a return to full employment before 2020. The report notes, as others have, that the length of recovery after each recession since WWII gets longer and longer.
Also, according to the report, “too few Americans who attend college and vocational schools choose fields of study that will give them the specific skills that employers are seeking.” McKinsey cited a few specific vocations that, based on its interviews, employers expect to have more vacancies than they can fill. Here are the five professions mentioned in the report, along with some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (I have no idea what sort of track record the BLS has for its projections, so be warned).
2010 Median Pay: $53,250 per year or $25.60 per hour
Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree (along with state certification)
Job Outlook, 2010-20: 20% (Faster than average)
According to the Wikipedia nutritionist entry:
Some use the terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist” as basically interchangeable. However in many countries and jurisdictions, the title “nutritionist” is not subject to professional regulation; any person may call themselves a nutrition expert even if they are wholly self-taught. In most US states, parts of Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, the term nutritionist is not legally protected, whereas the title of dietitian can be used only by those who have met specified professional requirements. One career counselor attempting to describe the difference between the two professions to Canadian students suggested “all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.”
According to the Wikipedia dietitian entry:
Besides academic education, dietitians must complete at least 1200 hours of practical, supervised experience through an accredited program before they can sit for the registration examination. In a coordinated program, students acquire internship hours concurrently with their coursework. In a didactic program, these hours are obtained through a dietetic internship that is completed after obtaining a degree.
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook entry on Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers:
2010 Media pay: $35,450 per year or $17.04 per hour.
Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent (“Training ranges from a few weeks of school or on-the-job training for low-skilled positions to several years of combined school and on-the-job training for highly skilled jobs.”)
Job Outlook, 2010-2020: 15% (About average)
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook entry for Nursing Aides, Orderlies, and Attendants:
2010 Median Pay: $24,010 per year or $11.54 per hour.
Entry-level education: Postsecondary non-degree award
Job outlook 2010-20: 20% (Faster than average)
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear production. They operate special equipment used in these activities and monitor the levels of radiation that are produced.”
2010 Median Pay: $68,090 per year, $32.73 per hour.
Entry-level education: Associate’s degree (plus extensive on the job training)
Job Outlook, 2010-20: 14% (About as fast as average)
This is obviously a giant bucket that includes a wide range of jobs. I don’t know much about traditional engineering fields like civil or mechanical engineering, but computer tech changes quick. People with the right skills can command high salaries, but people with outdated skills can be unemployed for years at a time. My colleague Alex Williams recently wrote about which tech skills are growing fastest (hint: mobile application development is huge).
The Louisiana libertarian think-tank The Pelican Institute rounds-up the evidence that we’re experiencing a higher education bubble:
Concurrently, students are defaulting at an alarming rate: 25 percent of all government loans default, 30 percent of community college loans default, 40 percent of two-year college loans default, and for-profit schools have a 43 percent default rate.
Although student loans are defaulting faster than home loans at the height of the housing crisis, a 2005 decree from the Bush Administration stated that student loan debt could not be dissolved through bankruptcy proceedings. The only other scenario where this “no-escape” clause exists is debt from criminal acts and debt from fraud.
Via Andrew McAfee, who also points out an important question: what would a higher education bubble bust actually look like?
Good stuff, but I couldn’t help getting this icky “all those people who have been downsized and laid-off and otherwise had their lives destroyed by the hollowing out of the U.S. economy just just need to shut-up, stop complaining and pull themselves up by their bootstraps” vibe from the article.
“Manufacturing isn’t dead and doesn’t need to be preserved,” she says. “Let’s stop fixating on what’s lost. Let’s see what we have here, what’s doing well, and let’s help those folks do better.” […]
SFMade helps companies assess a product’s “manufacturability,” which sometimes results in an adjustment of (for instance) the design, to make it easier and less costly to manufacture. SFMade will then help companies either connect to existing contract manufacturing resources in the city or establish their own production capacity. Instead of assuming that things like sewing, printing and assembly need to happen overseas, SFMade is working to reconnect local production capacity to big companies (i.e., San Francisco-based Levi’s, exploring the possibility of local sample production). Other large San Francisco-based corporations have initiated relationships with SFMade, like Bank of America (which felt it had lost its footing as a “local” business) and Virgin America (which features local products for sale onboard its aircraft and in their San Francisco terminal). […]
Similar efforts are happening in New York (and indeed, The Times’ City Blog spotlighted the things still made in the city, from lightbulbs to envelopes, in the Made in N.Y.C. series two years ago). Though it launched post-9/11 as a strategy to lift the city back up, Made in N.Y.C. has evolved over time. Sustainability has become a large part of its mission: member companies can post the environmental impacts of their manufacturing processes on the Made in N.Y.C. Web site, with those excelling in greener process and product able to earn a “green apple.” Tying economic growth inextricably to environmental stewardship has so far been a strong strategy.
I think Brain might be overestimating the ability of machine-vision and natural language processing to supplant human intelligence, but the general trend towards fewer and fewer jobs is real one that I’ve written about a lot lately.
(via Justin Pickard)