Unless you have been under a rock for the last couple of years, you have undoubtedly heard of The Great Resignation. Over the course of the COVID pandemic large numbers of employees opted to no longer continue in the workforce, at least in the traditional sense. This was driven by a change in the perception of what was considered worthwhile from the employees perspective in terms of a job and the related compensation. Unemployment benefits and COVID stimulus payments provided for some additional income during the pandemic and all in all this culminated in many employees changing their outlook and perspective on whether they wanted to continue in a traditional job and employment relationship.
I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation at a local college where Mike Rowe (from Dirty Jobs/Deadliest Catch/Mike Rowe Works Foundation) spoke and he highlighted the fact that as it currently stands, there are approximately 10 million job openings in the U.S. right now and 7.5 million able-bodied workers aged 24-54 that are actively choosing to sit out of the workforce. That statistic seems simply outlandish to me but nonetheless thats where we sit today.
Regardless of where you fall on this issue, one thing is most certainly universal and that is that the overall workforce reduction has had an impact on all of us. Whether that’s from the supply chain constraints that created shortages of materials due to manufacturing bottlenecks, staffing shortages in the workplace where you work, or just simply quality of service issues at the local restaurants you frequent due to shortage of staff. It doesn’t matter what industry you look at and talk to, everyone is lamenting the fact that finding qualified, willing and able workers is a huge challenge right now.
No matter what you look at in terms issues whether they are political, economic, or social, when the pendulum tends to swing all the way to one side, there is almost always a catalyst that causes the pendulum to swing to the other side and hopefully at some point to settle back to somewhere in the middle. We are now starting to seeing that catalyst come to fruition that is going to cause that pendulum to swing quickly back to the other side when it comes to the job market.
Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and automation are on the cusp over driving what I believe will lead to The Great Automation. ChatGPT, IBM Watson, and others have exploded on the scene with incredible capabilities that seem to be expanding overnight and it’s not hitting the mainstream where businesses are starting to take notice. Businesses have always wanted to drive efficiencies and thats where technology can bring great benefits. A.I. is about to dump truckloads of gas onto that fire and accelerate automation beyond what many can even imagine. Whats even more interesting is the pace at which this all seems to be transpiring is something we have never seen or experienced at least in our lifetime. A.I. and automation could potentially address the bottleneck and crunch we have all been experiencing in the current workforce shortage in the very near future. The question is, how can you take advantage of it and get a jump start on this?
One of the easy examples that comes to mind is from the automation perspective. We have all probably experienced the scenario where you walk into a restaurant and there are lots of empty tables but yet the host/hostess indicate there is going to be a wait because there aren’t enough servers to cover the restaurant. Then when you do get a seat the server is so frazzled by the amount of tables they are having to cover that the experience is dramatically different that what it has been in the past. (and KUDOS to the servers that are actually showing up and working their butts over to cover things!!). How can automation help in this scenario? Why not have a kiosk on the tables like many restaurants already have that also allows you to order your meal directly. You get to enter all of the customizations you want to your meal yourself and nothing gets lost in translation. The order goes directly to the kitchen in the order that it was placed. The restaurant can then utilize centrally shared runners to bring the food and drinks out to the table and limit the number of staff required to cover all of the restaurant and open up more tables. Through the kiosk, upsells such as drinks and desserts can be presented at a timeline basis increasing the customer spend consistently and the customer pays and settles the bill directly on the kiosk. Efficiencies improve and the customer could potentially get a better experience all through the use of technology.
ChatGPT and A.I. bring a whole different perspective to the mix. These technologies could potentially reduce the amount of workforce required for redundant tasks such as data analytics, customer support, and data entry. In fact it is estimated that some 30-40% of data involved jobs could be either streamlined or even eliminated through the use of these technologies. Imagine being able to call into a customer service number for any vendor and instead of having to wait on hold to get to the representative that is grumpy and uninterested in truly helping, you are able to get to a A.I. driven interface that can provide you the information and take action for you within seconds. Those type of instances are going to be a reality VERY soon based upon the pace at which this technology is developing.
Other examples that have been presented are jobs such as copywriting, marketing, and content generation. With the evolution of A.I. the potential is incredible.
The rapid rise of this technology also carries with it some legitimate concerns. Could the A.I. technology be developed with a certain political, social, or economic bias? Absolutely!! Could this technology develop capabilities beyond our current thinking model that could have negative impact to our society? Absolutely!! Could this technology reduce the ability of the workforce to drive value and the related personal income potential? Absolutely!! In fact over 1000 of the top technical leaders have signed a petition to pause development of A.I. technologies for at least 6 months to better understand the risks, caveats, and concerns around this technology. If the top technical leaders feel this way, it is a safe bet that there are some technical concerns that should be factored in.