In the past, I have written extensively about how many jobs are threatened by the emergence of a number of technologies, including IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation (or robots, if you will). The job losses, while most people tend to focus on manual labor and blue-collar positions, will in fact spread into many white collar jobs as well.
During the presidential campaign, President-Elect Trump spoke quite often about how trade deals were the main reason for the decline in the employment in US-based manufacturing, often leaving out the more obvious reason of technology. I don’t think this comes as a surprise to anyone...I mean, it is much easier to blame Mexico than to blame a robot.
However, considering how he ran on the platform of supporting workers, his choice for Labor Secretary is a bit puzzling. I hadn’t heard of Andrew Puzder before his announcement, but I certainly had heard of the companies that he ran, namely Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s. Both of those restaurants tend to focus on the lower end of the restaurant business and as such, employ a higher number of low-paid workers.
It seems Mr. Puzder finds that, in spite of their lower cost wages, these employees are not providing a good value to his company. Here is a statement that he made earlier this year:
While acknowledging that machines require regular maintenance and can sometimes malfunction, Business Insider quoted Puzder (March 2016) stating that machines "are also easier to manage than humans and don’t pose the same legal risks. They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”
I don’t think anyone doubts there is a lot of competition, and as such, lower margins for this part of the food industry. However, one has to wonder if he will be bringing the same attitude towards other areas in his new upcoming role. And, it is not just wages that Mr. Puzder has criticized…it also extends to things like health care costs as well.
It is a bit of a head-scratcher that the same week Trump openly bragged about how he saved jobs at a Carrier plant in Indiana, he also appointed someone who seems to be in favor of reducing employment at many other companies. Sure, there is one difference…the Carrier jobs were going to Mexico.
The longer we put off having the discussion (let alone making plans) as to how we are going to transition tens of millions of jobs towards technology-filled solutions, the harder it will be to make the transition. Given Trump has selected someone to his cabinet who seems to favor speeding up this transition, one can only hope that the conversation will be starting sooner than later.