Innovations like online shopping, Uber, and robots on factory floors are having a huge positive impact in terms of convenience and keeping the prices of everyday products low. But they are also creating huge upheaval in the workplace by displacing workers, creating new jobs without health insurance, and widening the financial gap between people who are highly skilled and those who are not.
Technology’s impact, both good and bad, on the future of work was the central theme of a panel at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo. on Tuesday. Here’s several ideas that emerged from the discussion:
Automation: Half of all workplace activities can be automated by current technology, says Michael Chui, a partner with McKinsey Global Institute. But that doesn’t mean that those jobs will vanish overnight. It will take decades, if ever, and depends on whether the cost to businesses makes sense. Still, Chui said, losing just 5% of those jobs to automation would impact a millions of people.
Gig economy: Nearly 16% of all U.S. workers are in the so-called gig economy, a loose classification that includes Uber drivers and on-demand delivery workers. They are independent contractors who do not generally collect benefits like health insurance and who frequently complain and having erratic incomes. Tony Xu, CEO of delivery service DoorDash, says that gig economy companies like his, in partnership with government agencies, should use one city as a test bed to find remedies for gig economy workers’ complaints and that those solutions could then be rolled out more broadly.
For more about the on-demand economy, watch this:
Training: Keeping people employed, particularly those whose jobs are taken over by technology, will depend on training, says Penny Pritzker, the former U.S. Commerce Secretary who is now chairman of PSP Capital. The problem is that the U.S. lags behind all industrialized nations in funding for job training except for Mexico and Chile. She suggested increased spending on training in areas where the business community says there is a need.
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Rethinking businesses: Industries that we take for granted today will have to adapt to the changing technology. Gas stations? Well, with the increased use of electric cars, they’ll have to undergo a major overhaul so they can provide electric charging to cars, not just gasoline, says Hemant Taneja, managing director of General Catalyst. The same goes for shopping malls, which could and are already, to a point, suffering the consequences of online retailing and on-demand delivery services.