How is technological advancement changing the labor market?

The Urban Institute will cohost the Reimagine Communities Symposium in Plano, Texas, on October 3, 2018. In a series of posts this month, we’ll explore the theme of the conference: how we can harness technology to create more inclusive communities and create pathways to economic opportunity.

“The robots are coming.” “No jobs are safe.” “The way we work is coming to an end.”

These fears around automation and technology’s impact on jobs continue to grow as innovations have the potential to change the employment landscape. Although millions of jobs could be lost as a result of new technologies, millions of jobs will also be created (it’s still unclear whether there will be enough new jobs).

Concerns about robots, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) miss that the advent of technology is more likely to change jobs, not eliminate them. In manufacturing, companies are experimenting with having floor and line workers use mechanical exoskeletons to reduce strain and fatigue when lifting heavy objects. And in sales, representatives will need to become more capable with online marketing and engagement to adapt to customer preferences.

Technology is changing the way we work, but concerns about which jobs are lost and which are gained—and who those changes affect—are important in considering whether people will have the opportunity to shift from working in the jobs of yesterday to the jobs of tomorrow.

Which jobs are poised for growth, and which face declining demand
The evidence is clear that technological change has reduced the need for routine mechanized work and increased both the demand and pay for high-skilled technical and analytic work.

The impact of automation and artificial intelligence is an acceleration of a trend decades in the making. Switchboard operators have recently been replaced by phone and interactive voice response menus, and many grocery store clerks have been replaced with self-checkout machines. With advances in AI, reports claim that truck drivers, paralegals, and even surgeons might see their occupations upended by changing technology.

In this environment, tech jobs could seem like the only occupations with guaranteed job growth. But they’re not the only ones. Although there is a growing need for developers and data scientists, jobs in personal care and the medical industry are expanding even faster.