Friday, 23 August 2019

Women, work and automation

The issue of automation has been of growing concern around the planet for a while now. Early alarmists such as Frey and Osborne (2013) told us that 47% of our jobs would disappear. More careful thinkers, such as Rainer Strack (2014) and Erik Brynjolfsson (cited by Relihan, 26 June 2018), feel that there is more likely to be a labour shortage. Yes, some entire jobs will be automated, but the likelihood is that some elements of work will be automated, leaving the human resources able to focus on service, and customer interaction.

It looks like how we use our skills, and the application of our training, will need to shift. Those of us who have spent time in analysis, are likely to find our jobs will need to shift focus. We will probably have to sharpen our customer service skills. We may need to sharpen our sales skills. It is possible that communication and human interaction skills may be "the new black" when it comes to what employers are looking for. We will pick up the slack once computing power - chat bots - get stuck.

Analysis and pattern seeking may disappear from our work, as AI support through computing power becomes more honed and on-point. This will create new opportunities for us. IBM's Watson, the mainframe computer who beat the twice will champion at the American game show Jeopardy, is in high demand for analysis of workflows, demand prediction, and diagnosis. For example, US tax provider, H&R Block is using Watson for predictive chat bot work (H& R Block, to February 2017; Mahdawi, 26 June 2017). Deakin University has been working with Watson for a couple of years in trying to create a predictive student enrolment model - and I can't wait to hear an update on that!

The interesting thing is that women may be more affected by the shift then men, according to a report from McKinsey Global Institute (2019). This seems to be because women tend to do much more unpaid work in the household than men. This includes cleaning, cooking, child raising, elder care, and planning. Women tend to support men through additional training, but men do not appear to support women in return.

Women, whose time is already overburdened, do not appear to have the time, nor the support, to retrain appropriately for the coming work environment (McKinsey Global Institute, 2019). If, as Rainer Strack and Erik Brynjolfsson suggest, that we're going to have a skills shortage, it makes no sense to limit our available workforce by fifty percent. We need to ensure that our women - half the population - have access to required training and up-skilling, and have the time and support to undertake it.

Time to don the apron, men!


Sam

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