Can retail ease automation’s impact on African American workers?
Many are anxious about the rate of technological change and the impact that automation could have on jobs and the economy, but some demographic groups may stand to suffer more than others. A recent study posits that African Americans will experience a disproportionate negative impact in the coming wave of automation.
African Americans, especially men, tend to be represented in job roles that are threatened by automation at a rate greater than other demographic groups, according to a study reported on Axios. They experience a higher unemployment rate as well, double that of white workers. There is also a geographical element to the concern, with African Americans living largely in portions of the country which are predicted to experience slow economic growth. By 2030, these factors may combine to lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs held by African Americans, widening the racial wealth gap and stifling overall economic growth.
A study from 2015 discussed on Demos indicates that retail is the industry employing the second highest number of African Americans in the country. Those retail employees already suffer disproportionate economic hardship with a greater likelihood of falling into the working poor category.
Further, retail is one of the industries most prone to disruption by automation. Customer-facing positions like cashiers already run the risk of being replaced with touchscreens, but innovations such as automated vehicles threaten the jobs of truck drivers as well. Robots that can move through warehouses and stores likewise stand to threaten janitorial, shelf-stocking and inventory-related jobs.
Even white collar/office jobs stand to be severely impacted by AI. A Financial Times article asserted that “knowledge work” could be swept away by technology faster than anything else, though some experts insist that this claim is overstated.
Concerns about the advent of AI have grown to prompt study at the government level. In 2016 the White House issued a report indicating that millions of jobs could be affected by AI, with citizens experiencing significant economic hardship if no plan is put into place to account for mass job loss and restructuring.
- Automation to hit African Americans disproportionately – Axios
- The Retail Race Divide – Demos
- How can the retail job market survive the AI revolution? – RetailWire
- Workplace automation: how AI is coming for your job – Financial Times
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What might the retail industry to do to brace for technological disruption and, specifically, the potential threat to African American workers’ jobs? Should employers take action now, or is the problem too far in the future to be of immediate concern?
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6 Comments on "Can retail ease automation’s impact on African American workers?"
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Chief Executive Officer, The TSi Company
Principal, Your Retail Authority, LLC
And let’s not forget about the jobs that will be created. Jobs to maintain said technology, install it, test it, stay on top of new developments, etc. All can be learned and executed without extra degrees. A great way for young people to get into a trade or help pay bills before they graduate. Just like many store-level jobs are today. Always evolving. For my 2 cents.
Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates
There’s plenty to be worried about here, but I doubt that retail will be affected in the near term. It’s not practical now to have machines hanging clothes on racks, or wrapping gifts, greeting customers, or handing over burgers and fries.
We need to have a national conversation, though, about self-driving vehicles. They’re going to be all over the roads, and we’re not ready.
Senior Vice President Marketing, PDI
Employers should take action now and that action is education. Education is two-fold: First education in regards to the changes that are coming and second, education to build additional and complimentary skill sets. This is also an opportunity for retailers to invest in trade education programs that develop a workforce who is equipped to meet their automation needs. Machines will always need to be modified and maintained. There will be a worker shortage in this area.
Founder, CEO, Black Monk Consulting
CFO, Weisner Steel
If the retail industry is going to become concerned about (technological) disruption — has it ever been before? — then I think it should be concerned about all people equally. I can’t imagine a concern that targets one group more than another ever being successful … OTC, I think it would exacerbate problems.