Tech Trends

How automation affects the American workforce

05.12.2017
Carlos Folgar
Photo credit: Mixabest

The idea that technology will replace humans in the workplace is at least as old as the invention of the wheel. New studies surface each week estimating the number of jobs likely to disappear, and now there are even lists to consult to see if your job is more or less likely to be performed by a robot.


But we wanted to take a bit more detailed look at the world of robotics and automation: Namely, which sectors of the American economy are projected to be most impacted, and in which specific situations are layoffs actually occurring?


We used Quid to read thousands of articles published over the past two years in order to understand the context surrounding how automation and robotics are impacting the workforce.

Network visualization of over 2700 U.S. news articles since 2015 mentioning the effect of robotics and automation on job displacement. Top categories displayed.



The region in the lower left corner of the map above contains 257 articles focusing on the general rise of automation and robotics (light purple), including speculation about how robots will take over (light blue).

Two categories isolated and color changed to represent overall sentiment of each article.

We isolated this specific group of articles and changed the coloring to show sentiment. While you might expect areas of the network mentioning innovation to be fairly positive, the tone of many pieces here is quite gloomy. "The Robots Are Here -- And You Should Be Worried," reads one headline. Even more ominous: "We Need a New Version of Capitalism for the Jobless Future." In this area, only 29% of nodes are marked positive; 59% are neutral and 10% are negative.


Many categories of the map focus on specific sectors.



Minimum wage

Zoom-in on the group of articles focused on minimum wage hike and food service industry. Nodes represent the companies primarily mentioned in their respective articles, sized by number of articles.

The largest of these categories is on the left side of the network map and focuses on recent minimum wage hikes. Quid can scan each article to see which company is mentioned most often. Doing so shows that the food service industry is the most tied to the minimum wage hike conversation. But what does this have to do with automation and job displacement? The increased wages are too costly for these companies like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Domino’s, and they’ve resorted to replacing workers with self-order kiosks and robotic devices.

Finance

Zoom-in on the group of articles focused on finance and large corporations. Nodes represent the companies primarily mentioned in their respective articles, sized by number of articles.

Effects on investment & big banks

The second-largest category of articles primarily focuses on the financial industry and big banks. As banking CIOs increase their technology spending, currency traders, investment bankers, and credit analysts (among other roles) are being let go and replaced by software. Computers are simply more effective at extracting patterns from the masses of economic and financial data being created around the globe every second. In fact, the term ‘robobanker’ has been fully adopted by the industry.


Closely tied to the finance articles, we also see a group focused on major corporations that are experiencing the same evolution among their workforce.


We did the same drill-downs in each sector category to learn about industry events tied to automation and identify the most frequently-mentioned companies.

When we highlight articles that report on specific layoffs, we begin to see a clearer picture of where American laborers are being impacted the most.

Layoffs

Articles reporting on specific layoffs highlighted, revealing which sectors are directly impacted most by automation.

One thing is clear: while big technology companies, startups, and advertising tech companies figure into the overall narrative, they are also relatively safe from layoffs, since they are the source of the automation and robotic technologies. So where is job displacement most prolific?


All the remaining sectors in the map. Those include food service, finance and banking, retail, automobile, plants and engineering facilities, oil and gas, and coal.


Back in 2015 Starbucks was already announcing layoffs, even at their Seattle HQ. Lowe’s is installing robotic greeters and retail assistants. Automation has replaced thousands of jobs in the oil industry. Boeing cut jobs on its 777X project as it’s already using a new automated fuselage assembly system. AIG cut hundreds of jobs in New York as they’ve created a platform for future automation of manual processes.

Why is this knowledge valuable?


Understanding which sectors are being impacted most by automation technology is valuable for businesses, technology developers and the general public alike. For businesses, sizing up the  automation technologies in their industry and how competitors may be implementing them is essential for survival in the market. By understanding the demand for automation across sectors, technology developers can prioritize their product development and go-to-market strategies accordingly.


Simultaneously, the public and workforce can be more informed about which career fields are dissipating (e.g. credit analysts and fast food servers) and pursue careers and roles where humans are irreplaceable. One safe bet: a technician working in robotics.


Reach out to us at hi@quid.com to dig deeper into this analysis.

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