As self-driving cars and automated restaurants increasingly pop up in the news, anxiety around automation seems to be at an all-time high. And in the past year, there has been a cause for concern, as reports of machinery replacing manual positions in transportation and manufacturing have surfaced.
But amidst the panic, it’s important to note that research has shown that automation causing massive labor displacement is unlikely. In fact, technology has historically led to net gains in job creation.
Given the “growing reach of mobile devices, cheap data storage and innovations in machine learning,” says Glassdoor Chief Economist Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, “2017 looks to be the year when these big advances in automation will start changing the daily work of more Americans.”
Changing, however, doesn’t necessarily mean replacing. Technological advancements often lead to an increase in productivity, so human jobs are made easier. Case in point, business software is yielding greater results with less effort on the parts of the professionals that use it. Financial analysts, for example, have benefitted from business intelligence and data visualization platforms, which have replaced mindless data entry and painstaking manual analytics. Programs like that get much of the legwork out of the way, but still require humans to interpret the information they house, so they’re not destroying jobs — just making them a little easier.
Still, we can’t pretend that automation won’t replace any jobs. Routine tasks that don’t require much creativity or uniquely human insight have already started to be outsourced to machines, and that trend is not likely to slow down in 2017 and beyond.
[Related: 6 Skills That Will Get You the Job]
However, we can avoid many of the negative impacts of job automation if we invest in education and training. Policy makers, business leaders and workers should all come together to create a culture of ongoing learning. For policy makers, that might mean diverting more money towards education. For business leaders, that should include an increased focus on training in their professional development programs. And workers may want to take it upon themselves to proactively hone skills complementary to technology (such as learning how to repair a self-driving car, versus competing for a job with one).
The advancement of technology may create a certain degree of anxiety, but it also presents a tremendous amount of opportunities — and it’s up to us to take advantage of them.