By Larry Teren
We already know that the world isn’t coming to an end but what some of us find hard to accept is that there is no longer a need for the same percentage of people in the workforce as there was during the height of the Industrial Revolution. Face it- computers have done what the experts promised years ago would happen. Data processing makes us more efficient and requires less people to do the tasks than were used to by humans manually.
There was a time when a business operation had a few people sitting in a secretarial typing pool. It was their job to listen to dictation over earphones or read shorthanded notes and convert the messages into typewritten correspondence. These were industrious workers who kept nearby a thesaurus and dictionary to make sure they spelled correctly and/or used the most reasonable words to convey the proper thoughts. Today, who uses a typewriter? Everyone and anyone has access to a word processing program with built in spelling correction and thesaurus.
What happened to the people who worked in the secretarial pool? There has been no shift in the paradigm where these same number of employees are now doing other helpful work in such a company. There is no need for someone to sit and take several other co-workers document drafts and reshape them into final product. Company employees do their own correspondence especially when email makes it that much more convenient and time saving. Hopefully the newer generation of potential workers have made an effort to achieve higher goals and use better skills than typing to get available jobs. What’s the step up from typing- private secretary?
In the days when manufacturing was originated in this country, most businesses had machine operators. Now, with everything seemly being outsourced to other countries, localized manufacturing usually
means light assembly. Penny-pinching businesses usually try to hire the cheapest help they can for this. In today’s world, it means the lesser educated. These hapless souls do not need drafting or machining lessons at high school. The supply pool is comprised mostly of both registered aliens and legal citizens who are new to the work force. Not much of a need for more expensive, older, long-time American factory workers.
Most businesses I consult are not going to hire a full time better educated employee to whom they are required to also give benefits unless they help increase revenue or help reduce losses. There is little concern for whether their existing staff is overworked. The feeling is that they should be grateful to have a job. Now, if a person were to approach with an offer of service as a non-employee so that the company does not need to withhold taxes and match social security benefits and/or insurance, then they may be given a listen to.
Around 1979 or 1980, I did some work for a temporary agency that hired me out to a firm for a couple of days. My task was to sit with a calculator and add up a whole bunch of pencil-written entries on spreadsheet paper. This took a couple of days and the supervisor marveled at how quickly and accurately I did it even though I had no idea previously how to use the adding machine. I was grateful to earn the fifty dollars less taxes withheld and felt as if I accomplished something important. I hoped maybe it would lead to some type of job with the firm, which, of course, it didn’t. Today, that same work would be done on an electronic spreadsheet in seconds, if that.
Is society obligated to find work for everyone? Probably not. But we then have to figure out how to feed, clothe and house a lot of people without making them feel worthless or useless. Both the major political parties refuse to recognize this truth about the potential for keeping America employed. As more and more improvements in technology occur, there will be less and less need to for workers. This means more and more of the industrious of us will have to figure out how to put bread on the table for ourselves by creating our own business opportunities. Good luck.