Most jobs that can be done by a robot are not good jobs

All jobs that can be done by a robot instead of a human are, ultimately, vulnerable jobs.  That does not mean that all of those jobs SHOULD be done by robots.  The race for technological innovation has always been linked to human beings collective and individual behaviors being disrupted.  Even if we understand, it remains a very uncomfortable concept.  If you swap out the word android for robot it gets even scarier.

When I think about some of the jobs that I have seen go by the wayside in my lifetime, I often feel nostalgic.  However, once that nostalgic feeling passes it generally is apparent to me that those jobs were probably not good jobs the way people like to define good jobs today.  Perhaps it’s best if I give my personal definition of what constitutes a good job.

  1. You are for the most part engaged and interested in and with the work you are doing and the people with whom you interact on a day to day basis.
  2. You are paid somewhat commensurately with your contribution and experience and that amount is sufficient to pay for once and future living expenses.
  3. You have opportunities for career growth.

I realize I am casting a wide net in being so general but there are far too many opinions on engagement, compensation, and growth opportunities both personal and professional to which would be a deep discussion in and of itself.   And what constituted a good job fifty years ago would not and should not necessarily be the same.

What today would not be a good job in my mind?

  • Highway and bridge and tunnel toll collectors. Once a necessity, they are now a true dying breed.  Sitting or standing in booth for 8 hours receiving and handing over money and receipts while briefly interacting with people is not a good job and really it never was.
  • Gas Station attendants. This was a better job than a toll taker as it came with more interaction with the customer, but once drivers learned to pump their own gas the cost of having gas stations attendants became unnecessary. 
  • Truck drivers. There’s been so much talk about the huge amount of truck drivers in the United States who every day are more in jeopardy of losing their jobs to self-driving trucks.  There are more than 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States.  That’s more than 1% of the entire population!  The idea that driving a truck is a good job has always been lost on me.  Sure, you can be your ‘own’ boss.  Yet sitting (and then sleeping) in a cab for 12 hours a day combined with the monotonous nature of the job can no longer be considered a good job.

I left out low-paying customer-service oriented jobs like fast food, working at a big-box store or being a Lyft or Uber driver (since driverless cars will take most of those jobs anyway).  All involve interfacing with the public making the shift to robots more challenging.

How about Stadium ushers?  Not too long ago there were lots of stadium ushers.  You paid for a ticket, went to the ballpark and then were ‘shown’ to your seat which was ceremoniously wiped off with a dirty towel and you tipped the usher.  It was a pretty great job for the ushers as they also had the benefit of seeing the ballgame for free.  There do not appear to be as many today.  Was being a stadium usher a good job?  Yes in some ways.  Was it necessary?  In my view yes since it helped improve the ticket buyer’s experience (at least theoretically).  But clearly there was no opportunity for future growth and for most that was just fine.  You could be an usher for fifty years or more!

Not to go all sci-fi on you, but androids (robots) will eventually look like humans and perform robot functions and jobs.  But I feel that jobs in which people have need to regularly interact with customers (people) are not and should not be ceded to robots even if some companies might find that tempting.  Human interaction will be increasingly important in the coming age of AI, Androids and Robots.  When you eat in a restaurant the experience would be vastly different (and sterile and inhuman) if an android waiter took your order and brought your food.  At least then you would not feel bad about not tipping.

How about using robots/androids as schoolteachers?  Is it that horrifying?  Schoolteachers remain among the most underpaid group in the United States.  The various demands on teachers make it difficult for them to connect with each and every student.   Could an android teacher (who never gets tired or needs a day off) do better?  Would an android teacher not be able to recognize the ‘human’ indicators given off by students?  It’s too easy to think that an Android schoolteacher would be so inhuman that it would ultimately lead to society’s downfall.  Iterative artificial intelligence has already proved to outperform human beings in a variety of tasks and evaluations.  Emotionally I want human beings to teach my children.  But we’re a far cry from the days of the one-room schoolhouse and my intuition tells me that fifty years from now the way we will teach schoolchildren will be hardly recognizable to people of today.

Yet here’s the thing, being a teacher is in my opinion a GOOD job!  At least except for the low-pay aspect.  Being part of a community, helping students learn and positively influencing (ideally) the lives of students and their families is a giant responsibility societally and otherwise.  However, the notion that a teacher might get their degree and start teaching the 3rd grade at 23 years old and to continue doing that for 30 years without a large amount of additional training is an outdated concept at the least.

A good job once meant that you got paid on time for an ‘honest day’s work’ (whatever that meant), didn’t require much (if any) overtime, and was secure as long as the employee’s performance was not deemed consistently substandard.  This goes back to the Greatest Generation and was adopted by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.  Today few people expect to work for a company for ten years much less twenty or more.  The era of ‘worker free-agency’ is quite possibly the future where contracts are shorter, and people come and go with a certain amount of interchangeability.  This will make building company and corporate teams more challenging.  Not to mention accustoming people to always working without a net underneath.

At one time it was thought that being a cigarette girl was a good job.  I don’t imagine many people would think that today.  The idea of what constitutes a good job changes with time.  And as such, so must we all.


About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver, baseball lover
This entry was posted in Jobs, Living in the World Today and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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