It’s easy to fall Victims of panic around automation. It’s also just as easy to dismiss it right away. As always, the truth almost certainly lies somewhere between those two extremes – although exactly where remains to be determined. Both companies and regulators will play an important role in determining the impact of automation on the future workforce.
As someone who frequently speaks to technologists, roboticists, and the VCs that invest in them, I think we tend to ignore some of these broader concerns and instead embrace the notion of a future where automation has either created a new class better and higher paying jobs, or simply eliminating the need for work altogether.
In my experience, the truly utopian result is never the right one. Life is more subtle, the future more nuanced, and more often than not, bad things tend to disproportionately hit those in society with the least means to defend themselves. It’s a topic that we knew would be central to a series of conversations we’re having at today’s TC Sessions: Robotics event, so we decided to start things with someone who can offer about as much insight into the topic as anyone else at the moment.
US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh was a bull’s eye on the event. In addition to having a background as a union organizer, he is a Boston native who served as the city’s mayor for six years before being tapped for a cabinet position by Joe Biden in March 2021.
Walsh’s take on automation is pragmatic, noting, “I’ve been in politics for 25 years, and for 25 years we’ve been talking about automation replacing people.”
He adds, “We were proactive in the city of Boston. Innovation brings with it different types of jobs. How do we ensure that employees are qualified and trained to actually get access to these jobs? Of course, if you don’t do that, it will affect people.”
This reaches an important and nuanced point in the automation conversation. While many agree that technology will create more and better jobs in the long run, what about workers in the short term? How can we support them and maybe train them so that they are better prepared for the future? And who ultimately bears this responsibility?
“The government needs to look at how we invest in human resources development and make sure we put the money into good training programs, community college programs, job corps centers and places like that,” he says.
Walsh adds that the companies doing the automation should shoulder some of that responsibility, too.
“I think companies need to invest more in their workforce and potential workforce,” he says. “This is their chance to create a workforce that works for them. That public-private partnership is important, but I think companies will start investing more in human capital because what they want is that loyalty to the company.”
Walsh has spent much of his time as secretary traveling, visiting manufacturing plants and speaking about Biden’s economic policies. These trips have taken him to a number of plants, warehouses and logistics facilities for companies like GM and UPS, where the workforce is often evenly split between human and robotic workers. He’s quick to add that he’d like to visit an Amazon facility, but hasn’t had the chance yet.
However, he has scheduled meetings with unions as factories across the country embrace a new push for worker organizing. In May, Walsh and Vice President Kamala Harris met with organizers from Amazon, Starbucks and REI. The minister is pushing back on companies’ tendency to take an antagonistic approach to unionisation.
“Whether it’s Starbucks, REI, or Amazon, they organized for a reason,” says Walsh. “They organized because they felt undervalued and underpaid, because they felt the job was unsafe — for whatever reason. Let’s say they agree on a contract – that’s when the relationship should really start thinking about a partnership together and how you can take the company forward. How do you ensure that the company is successful? What the labor movement needs to do a little better, to sell to them – not just the members who represent the members – but to the leadership of the company, that we’re not here to slow you down and put you out of business, we are here to make you successful.”
US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh on automation and unionization – TechCrunch Source link US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh on automation and unionization – TechCrunch