Are you at risk of being replaced by a machine?


The first machines appeared roughly 2500 years ago. They made us stronger, faster, more efficient and more productive. According to “Are robots hurting job growth?” which aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday, September 9th, when applied to certain tasks, they’re making many of us obsolete.

In the early 1960’s, the media seized on the idea that computers (electronic machines) would make it possible to do 8 hours of work in 6 hours. They predicted that the 9-to-5 work day would become the 9-to-3 work day and that we’d be faced with the challenge of what to do with our new-found leisure time. There was no shortage of suggestions, but business didn’t see things quite that way.

In a “dollars-and-cents” world that attaches a monetary value to everything it can, business is expected to know how much a job costs so that output rises faster than salaries. It’s a never-ending process and it often includes pruning deadwood.

Management has the prerogative of replacing us with people and/or machines located anywhere in the world, and they’re exercising it. These are business decisions. Some lines of work are more susceptible to that kind of transaction than others. Choosing where to work and why is a business decision, and it requires that we factor the risk of employment loss into every option we evaluate and every job-related move we make.

We conceived the Personal Due Diligence Project to pre-empt the likelihood of job loss to the fullest extent possible. For clients who are already employed, we base what we do on the thinking that surrounds:

  1. Choosing an employer with a history of investing in its employees by training and equipping them with the tools to make them more efficient while paying attention to their needs as people. (We like the word “people” a lot better than the term “human resources”, don’t you?)
  2. Choosing a line of work that doesn’t lend itself easily to replacing people with machines or with low-cost labour elsewhere.
  3. Monitoring an employer’s financial performance and the performance of the industry of which the employer is a part.
  4. Being aware of media that specialize in and vendors who sell to companies in a given industry and what those media and vendors are saying.
  5. Documenting everything you’ve done to contribute black ink to your employer’s bottom line. That’s what the true meaning of keeping your résumé up to date is.
  6. Starting your own business. Please read Bruce Stewart’s excellent posts on the subject.

For parents and children contemplating post-secondary education, pre-empting unemployment means all of the above plus scanning the environment to identify how many new Internet-based businesses—or businesses of any kind—there are. Many of them will have come into being during your lifetime. Google was one. So were Facebook and Twitter and Linked In and Craig’s List and Kijiji and Apple and Microsoft. The ideas that spawned those companies spawned a demand for people to work there. The process continues…

The humanities have a place in this phenomenon because buyers are people and not all people relate to machines or computers. They do relate to taking pictures of other people, places and things and sharing them with smartphones, and to downloading and reading e-books.

The world craves creativity and variety. Designers and manufacturers of high technology devices express it one way; people with degrees in the humanities, in another. We still haven’t built a machine that relates to and understands the human condition. So until someone does, people rule!

The world has become a tougher place. But there’s potential in it that most people don’t even know exists. The Personal Due Diligence Project will acquaint you with it.

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