Monday, March 8, 2010

If Your Job Can Be Automated, It Will Be

The idea of automation is nothing new. Pick any useful technology and it probably displaced some dumpier technology. However, the speed at which things can be automated is picking up pretty damn fast.

The first commercial steam engine was put to work around 1712, but it wasn't until 1775 or so that steam engines entered mass production. That means it was about 63 years before someone looked at how cool a steam engine was, said "holy crap, this will change everything!", and figured out how to mass produce the suckers. If your job was eventually going to be eliminated by the steam engine, you probably had some time to adjust.

The reason it took 63 years to for the steam engine to really take off was because it took forever to transfer knowledge. There were no telephones, email, TVs, text messages, telegraphs, efficient ponies with mailbags, etc. Only someone working around a steam engine could really efficiently study it and duplicate it. Today it won't take 63 years to improve upon a good idea. The second someone is doing something cool, it's up on Youtube. Someone does something neato in Japan, another someone in the US sees it, reverse engineers the product or process, and is competing in no time flat.

Today, a lot of people in business work on administrative tasks that haven't been automated yet. I'm a recruiter, and much of my job is spent scheduling interviews, posting jobs, printing resumes, and doing a lot of other mundane things. If a client of mine needs more than one recruiter, they hire a second one. However, someone is going to figure out how to optimize the recruiting work flow (and that someone is me), give a recruiter the ability to do twice as much as before, and the need for that second recruiter would be eliminated. If everyone employer embraced the software, 1/2 the recruiters out there would need to start thinking about how to adapt.

I don't realistically think I'll put 50% of recruiters out of business, but I would like to make the point that a recruiter would be wise to be good at the stuff employers can't automate - building relationships, selling the company, finding talent, etc. If you pride yourself on your main value as being efficient, you really should have one eye on your next opportunity at all times. Anyone who works hard but not smart is in serious danger of being outsourced or automated.

I suspect that the number of jobs eliminated from automation will increase, especially in small businesses that couldn't previously afford automation. Other jobs will eventually replace the ones eliminated, but I have no confidence that the new workers will come from the pool of people who lost their jobs to automation.


  1. Great Post. Being a recruiter I use to filter my candidates and then place them in my concern. Their profile would be excellent. It is with the help of Cloud jobs, which is a online job site.