When AI Replaces People

Martin Yate By Martin Yate May 7, 2019
When AI Replaces People

​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column. 

Hi, Martin. Every time there's a recession, I see companies firing people and permanently replacing them with technology. There's a lot of research on the Internet indicating that, even apart from coming recessions, we're going to lose upward of 30 percent of all jobs—at all levels and in all professions—to artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

Business is booming, profits are at an all-time high, and the job market is good. But what will happen when the next recession comes? Two-thirds of economists feel we are headed for another recession in the next two years. I know I should be really concerned about how I can help our employees, but I'm also scared about myself and my family and how we are going to survive. I've never thought like this before, and I have no idea what to do. Have y
ou thought about it?

You're right—there are countless sources you can find online that project that the impact of AI and robotics on employment will range from significant to terrifying.

Forrester Research estimated in 2016 that over the next 10 years, 16 percent of all jobs in all professions and at all levels will be replaced by AI and robotics, and that 30 percent of heritage technology companies will cease to exist.

Two-thirds of U.S. economists project that our next recession will start by the end of 2020. A quick online search reveals data that indicates recessions swing by every seven to 10 years. So how will a coming recession impact the job losses projected by the introduction of AI?

Since the 1990s, we have watched entire job categories and professions disappear after the introduction of new technology. It has become clear that employers adopt new technologies during layoffs and recessions to increase productivity while limiting payroll overhead. This is what the Guardian asserted in citing the 10 safest jobs and the 10 most at risk.

What Can You Do?

Stay informed, and take action based on what you learn.

Start by learning how likely AI and robotics are to replace you. According to HubSpot, they are highly likely to replace benefits and compensation professionals. On the other hand, HR managers are not likely to be replaced.

When you study and understand the odds against you, you can better plan to develop a niche job that won't be affected by AI or robotics or develop skills that will allow you to transition into a safer job.

Based on your research, work toward defending the job you have and getting to the safest place within that area of expertise. In the HubSpot article, you'll see that the safest jobs are predominantly in management, but knowing the safest nonmanagement jobs can also help you develop strategies for making your job safer.

Embrace the Entrepreneur Within

The Guardian also recommends diversifying your portfolio, which I've also been recommending since 1995. Many of us have entrepreneurial dreams from time to time, but now is the time to take everything you've learned about your business and use that knowledge to try to venture out on your own. You may make mistakes, but if you learn from those mistakes, then you'll succeed.

We can't ignore the threat that AI and robotics present to our jobs. We must take that threat seriously, in part by learning new skills, considering entrepreneurial dreams and becoming more self-sufficient.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today!


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