This is a very old debate. A hundred years ago it was said that machines were going to replace men in their jobs. Now, although the debate is the same, it has a different background: will technology replace manual labor, and which jobs will disappear?
It is very difficult, as is usual with this type of question, to give an answer that will be universal and satisfy everyone in the same way.
Indeed, when it comes to projecting the future, unpredictable factors can change any forecast. However, there are some important aspects that we can take into account in this context.
Learning from history: how jobs have evolved
It is quite difficult to understand the present without understanding the past. This is one of the secrets of history and its investigation.
When we talk about jobs, the evolution of production models throughout history is more than obvious. Take agriculture, for example, and think about how a farming was done 100 years ago and how it is done today.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the discussion about the relationship between technological advances and manual labor has been a recurring theme. We do not think that this is something new, at all.
However, if history has taught us anything, it is that the evolution of production processes brings with it new professional challenges. When we talk about changing working practices, it is unusual to see the destruction of one type of work without the creation of new jobs.
However, in this case, the challenge is different: the question is whether the new technologies will be able to definitively replace a wide range of jobs focused on craftsmanship or direct manual work.
Which jobs are likely to disappear in the coming decades?
Here we also have a rather complex discussion: it is not possible to establish with any certainty whether a job is going to last or not depending on how technology is developing. There are jobs that were thought to be extinct decades ago but, nevertheless, even if they are residual, they are still in use.
We can distinguish two main groups of manual jobs that may be threatened by technological change:
- Jobs that become obsolete because they can be replaced more efficiently and at a lower cost.
- Jobs that can be replaced, but maintain a traditional character that allows them to coexist with technological evolution.
The first ones are jobs that are part of the quick changes in production. Nowadays, rather than jobs, they are activities within specific sectors.
For instance, technology applied to agriculture eliminates certain activities of the farm worker. This may result in less employment, but not in the elimination of the farm worker.
The seconds, the artisan jobs that maintain their own value versus technological jobs, are a growing market force. For example, organic farming versus massive industrial farming.
It is very difficult to say whether a job will disappear or not in the coming decades. Obviously, those manual jobs, with little demand and which can be easily replaced by technology, are great candidates to disappear.