Problem

Elimination of jobs by automation

Other Names:
Unemployment due to mass production techniques
Endangered jobs from technological innovation
Elimination of jobs due to introduction of new technologies
Nature:
Throughout the industrial revolution and its subsequent evolution, automation has been criticized as the harbinger of mass unemployment and the dehumanizer of the working man. The increasing use of computers and numerical control technology has prompted similar concerns. This new technology, although vital for industrial competitiveness, has enormous potential for eliminating jobs; in the industries where microcomputers have been extensively applied the impact on jobs is considerable. The assembly operations will be increasingly automated in the electronics industry. This, in turn, implies a drastic reduction of low-skill job opportunities, combined with a drastic increase in the investment outlays required per new job created.
Incidence:
The new wave of automation from the 1970s, associated with the new microelectronic technology and new managerial and organizational engineering (notably in Japanese corporations), further accelerated the process of rationalization and reduction of jobs in many labour intensive sectors such as the steel industry, shipbuilding, textiles, automobile manufacture and the components industry. The newer lean production systems (Toyotism) continue the trend established by the earlier assembly line Fordism. Emerging techniques of concurrent engineering and re-engineering are not forecasted to reverse this trend and are likely to increase it. One estimate in 1993 indicated a possible loss of 2.5 million jobs in the USA from re-engineering. It is increasingly recognized that development of the services industry is unlikely to compensate for these developments since technological breakthroughs are also reducing jobs in that sector.

In the early 1970s in the cash registers industry, a major manufacturer reduced its employment from 37,000 to 18,000 with the changeover to microelectronics. One micro-computer replaced 350 mechanical sewing machine parts, and an electronics plant in West Berlin cut employment from 1,8000 to 800 by switching to this new technology. At a car plant in Sweden an automated welding line reduced the workforce from 50 to 10.

Counter Claim:
New technologies create new products, new industries and new jobs. The application of new technology raises standards of living and improving working conditions. It increases equal opportunities for women. Many goods, such as home video-tape recorders and personal computers, could not be produced without new technology, and service sector jobs will increase sufficiently to make up for the loss of employment in manufacturing. In addition, new technology has the potential of decentralization of employment, enabling people to work at home or closer to their homes.
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
01.01.2000 – 00:00 CET