Automation destroying jobs: is it different this time?

There's a lot of consternation that automation is eliminating jobs and professions at a faster rate than jobs are being created.

In a thought-provoking piece just published in The New York Times, Claire Cain Miller suggests that the rise of digitization and automation is destroying job opportunities at a much faster rate than they are being created.

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Photo: Honda

This is different than previous technology revolutions, she suggests. Advances in artificial intelligence and robotics is now enabling a huge range of tasks to be automated, from medicine to sports writing to piloting aircraft.

As IT professionals know all too well, IT work is increasingly being automated as well. It was just a few years ago that people were still needed to go from machine to machine throughout the enterprise loading software patches.Integrating applications often meant writing and manually implementing scripts.

Actually, there's still plenty of room for more automation that could only make IT professionals' lives a little bit easier. For example, in my work as an independent researcher, we recently completed a survey on web application performance. Guess how most IT managers are made aware of issues with their applications? By phone calls or emails from end-users or customers.

Still, at least in this sector, demand for talent (of the human variety) has never been stronger, and it is being fueled by organizations seeking greater digital capabilities, more insights from data, and more streamlined, competitive infrastructure. It certainly is helping in the short run: the latest survey of hiring managers by Dice Holdings, which focuses on tech recruiting and hiring, finds companies anticipate adding more professionals at a record level in the first half of 2015. Sixty-percent of hiring managers expect an uptick in hiring in the year ahead, which is four points higher than the mid-year survey and five more than November 2013. In addition, it's becoming more of a seller's market out there, Dice says -- "candidates are more often exercising bargaining options such as considering counteroffers from current employers or negotiating more money during the recruiting process to land the ideal job."

But Miller's article focuses on long-term angst about long-term prospects for many professions. It's hard to predict what things will be like 10 years out -- back in 2004, few were talking about the rise of cloud computing, big data analytics, 3D printing, and mobile computing.

CIO's Sharon Florentine reccently documented the top IT skills in demand, and it's notable that most were not even around 10 years back: Puppet, cybersecurity, big data, NoSQL, Salesforce.com, Hadoop, Jira, and cloud. The key lesson is the ability to stay flexible, and keep learning new skills.

Technology may take away opportunities, but it may also create opportunities in new ways not imagined. Thanks to cloud computing and API resources now available, it's easy and relatively cheap to start up a new business idea. With social networks, it's possible in shorty order to identify and reach partners and customers across the globe. Companies such as Uber -- which leverage mobile and cloud technology -- weren't possible a few years ago.

Individuals can work as independents or freelancers, leveraging the power of web resources and contacts. There has also been an emergence of online, crowdsourced labor markets that provide talent finely tuned for an organization's specific requirements, while also providing new sources of opportunity for contractors and freelancers.

Yes, automation is replacing a lot of jobs. But someone needs to build, maintain and upgrade these systems. More importantly, entrepreneurial thinkers are needed to figure out how these systems can be applied against pressing business and global needs. Entrepreneurial vision is something that can never be programmed.

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