The change in the jobs market

In the olden days, furniture was handcrafted by carpenters. Now, a large proportion of it is mass-produced by robots. In many cases, such as with Ikea, even its assembly has been outsourced to the end user.

Other homewares have gone a similar way: carpets, flooring, white goods.

When shopping for those goods, the shop assistant has often been taken out of the loop. The days of shop assistants being well-versed in the products that they are selling are, in the main, long gone. And so we buy from Amazon, looking to its reviews and our peers to guide us in the process.

When we venture into supermarkets, we scan our own items, no longer needing a swathe of till-workers.

Instead of talking to someone about a mortgage, a loan, a holiday or an insurance policy, we go online. Websites allow us to survey the market to find the deal most appropriate for our needs. And many such transactions can be completed without needing to interact with a human, either in person or over the phone. We can pay our bills an transfer money without going into a bank, go on holiday without meeting a single travel expert, and buy our car insurance and car tax entirely online.

Manufacturing has been automated. And increasingly, service is being automated. More and more functions are being performed by the end user, on an unpaid basis.

This is not exclusively the case. The building trade still has high demand, although with prefabricated three-storey buildings being erected in nine days, you have to wonder where even that trade will go.

The result of this is that an increasing proportion of our jobs are being pushed to the knowledge economy. And in so doing, I have two questions.

Is the number of jobs in this new world the same as it was before automation? And even with the appropriate education, is our available workforce able to fulfil them?


One Response to “The change in the jobs market”

  1. Nick Robinson on May 24th, 2012 09:43

    Good questions!
    An accountant friend of mine – senior partner in a mid-sized firm, told me recently about how much of their ‘knowledge’ work they are already outsourcing (eg workers in India can calculate and file British tax returns). Even that will be automated by expert systems before too long. He thinks the only people working at some point will be those making creative products and hands-on specialist workers, since you can’t send your car to India to be serviced and we don’t yet have robots that can change your oil. I think even those roles will be replaced eventually. Interesting times!

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