The Perpetual Evolution of "Work"

On March 11, tempers flared and emotions boiled over as many workers expressed their fear and anxiety over losing their jobs to technological advancements. During the day, hundreds of workers gathered at the rally fueled by speeches condemning the working conditions and the potential job loss due to automation. Once law enforcement broke up the rally, the workers then marched into the company and destroyed more than 60 new pieces of equipment that surely would have cost the people their jobs. So begins the “Luddite Movement” in 1811. Yes, 1811.

Fast forward to 2017 - I participated in a trade show last week geared towards the evolution of several key support departments in every business – HR, finance, customer service and IT. The term “Human Capital Disruption” was a term that I walked away with along with the reality of the growing use of artificial intelligence, RPAs and bots. RPA stands for Robotic Process Automation, which is the term used to describe the use of bots (robots) to process daily transactions. I met a number of people that had displaced as much as 75% of their human capital. In other words – they had eliminated 75% of their employees that worked in their four support departments. The same trends are happening in manufacturing as well. Companies are spending more on equipment and hiring fewer people. This is becoming more the rule than the exception.

I interact with our existing employers and potential employers every day. The use of technological advancements to maximize productivity is a normal part of operations and has been since the beginning of time. Companies, and people in general, have always looked for ways to produce more with less effort.

As an employer, these efficiencies are key to growing the bottom line and being a profitable, sustainable business. On the other hand, as an employee, it can be scary. Saturday night, my wife and I were finally able to see the movie “Hidden Figures”. Great movie. The movie is phenomenal on so many levels, but in particular, seeing the story of Dorothy Vaughan play out. Dorothy saw a change coming.

She saw the evolution of her computing work being taken over by an IBM computer. She had two choices. She could have taken the luddite approach and taken a hammer to the new, massive computing behemoth or she could adapt to the ever changing environment around her. She chose the latter and became the first African-American supervisor at NASA. Times are always changing.

Are we teaching our current and future workforce in a way that will allow them to compete for jobs that don’t exist yet? I was not a complete fan of “Common Core”, but, as a parent, I saw the shift away from fill in the blank, multiple choice, memorization to problem solving, research and investigation, and real world application. We have to teach our students how to think, how to learn, how to work through a problem, and how to leverage technology. At the same time, we have to provide our current workforce the opportunities for training. If our focus is on anything else, we will leave our current and future workforce stranded and unprepared.

Like Dorothy Vaughan, those that can adapt and learn will thrive. Those that live reflecting on the “good ole days” will be left behind. We are making strides in the right direction, but we have much left to do. Just last week, the announcement of the new Advanced Manufacturing Center on the Georgetown campus of Horry Georgetown Technical College was made public. This commitment along with several other local initiatives led by the school district’s CATE(Career and Technical Education) Program, ReadySC, SC Works, the Black River United Way, the Georgetown Jobs Connection and others underscore the importance of creating a skilled and responsive workforce. That said, this is a long-term effort that will require a long-term commitment of all involved. We can never be prepared for the future if we don’t dedicate time and resources in the present.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

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