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    The Next Industrial Revolution

    How do we protect people from the impact of advances in technology? April 24, 2018 by Captain Jaclyn Wynne
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    Photo: © SIphotography/iStock.com
    I’m not a shopper. When I go to a store, I know what I need in advance, get the item and leave. These days, it seems like there’s always someone who wants to sell me the latest credit card at the checkout line. So imagine my happiness with the introduction of the self-checkout. I can now go to the store, get what I need and check it out myself. I love how convenient it is, especially when I have only one or two items. At the same time, I have to wonder if using the self-checkout has contributed to the loss of jobs in Canada. We hear about massive layoffs all the time and advances in technology can be linked to unemployment.

    In 2016, CBC reported on a study from the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Toronto’s Ryerson University indicating that over the next couple of decades, 40 per cent of Canadian jobs are at risk of being replaced by technology. Jobs that will be most affected are ones that can be considered routine. We’ve already seen this as things like self-checkouts become increasingly available, and as more of our shopping is done online. Major retailers have felt the impact of rapidly advancing technology and struggled to adapt. In January, Sears Canada, once a retail giant, closed its doors, leaving 12,000 workers unemployed.

    It’s not just retailers at risk of cutting jobs. Data entry clerks, library technicians, truck or taxi drivers, even medical technicians, just to name a few, are all at risk for automation. Although the pace of technological advance will only increase, some argue that it creates more jobs than it costs. While one job may become digitized and therefore obsolete, some workers can transition successfully to other jobs with training. Even companies that are currently restructuring expect to create more jobs than they are cutting. According to the Huffington Post, Loblaw, which announced in October that it was laying off 500 office workers, said they still expect to be a net job creator this year.

    While the promise of new jobs is always there, there is an adjustment period that comes with transition—one that has an immediate impact on the workforce. Not all workers can be trained and transitioned into new roles within a corporation. This is especially true of workers with less education and/or access to reliable resources for skill improvement.

    There are no easy answers when it comes to the workforce and technological advance. If there were, we could just stop using self-checkouts, shopping online or even using things like ATMs. We can’t stop the progress of technology, nor am I convinced we should. Scripture obviously has no direct comment on technological advance. However, there are certain themes that can help shape the way we live in an increasingly automated world.

    1. God has created us for relationship with him and with each other. While we can appreciate technology, we still need to make an effort to connect with one another. This includes the people who are providing the services we use.

    2. Care for the people around us is a central theme throughout Scripture. God shows consistent concern for the poor and commands his people to do the same. There will always be people who are left behind during transition periods in the workforce, due to lack of education or specified skills. We can practise hospitality and care for one another without judgment. If you are in a position of power over employees, you can practise openness and honesty and do your best to help those people gain access to the resources they will need to transition into new jobs.

    3. Be generous. Scripture reminds us that those who are rich are to be generous in good deeds and use their money to do good (see 1 Timothy 6:17-19). Be generous with your time and resources to help those in need.

    We might not be able—or even want—to stop the impact of technological advance, but we have to realize that it does come with casualties. We need to control our own actions and show generosity toward one another.

    Captain Jaclyn Wynne is the corps officer at Erin Mills in Mississauga, Ont.

    This is the first column in a new series by members of the social issues committee.


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