These Workers are Gone Folks, and They Ain't Commin' Back (h/t Springsteen)
Content creators like to make a lot of hay about why the US is seeing worker shortages in service jobs. Most of it is a bunch of feel-good bunk that ignores the fact that most service jobs suck. A "living wage" isn't worth a damn if you get yelled at all day long.
Workers make choice, and those choices are not driven by compensation alone. Some jobs are dangerous, others are tedious and the choice few service jobs are downright unbearable because customers treat you like dirt.
Those choices are made possible by a couple of contributing factors:
- A bunch of manual jobs that could have been automated
- People are still sick from COVID
- Fewer Gen Z to replace retiring Boomers
Doing it By Hand
A well worn movie trope is to "go into manual" mode the minute the automated system conks out. It's a time honored tradition from a generation that is fond of saying things like "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean". This inevitably morphs into the single most iconic blue collar work advice ever given "just look busy".
Prior generations spent so much time "looking busy" as a way to justify themselves that subsequent generations were dissuaded from automating anything. As a teen I'd question "Why do we do this by hand?" with an all familiar retort of "I just don't trust the computer". It's a real life version of the "manual mode" plot device.
Everything from Star Wars targeting computers to nuclear power plant safety requires a well timed manual override.
So to propose that most of these thankless, low-wage tasks can be automated is an understatement. One of the reasons I became a software engineer is because I'm lazy and don't like to do things by hand. Software folks, this is our time to shine!!
It's that Damn Pandemic
Long COVID is a thing and will probably cost humanity trillions of dollars in healthcare and disability benefits. Add to that younger workers who need to care for aged parents who were knocked down by the disease and never fully recovered.
Beneath the immediate inconvenience of not being able to get an order of 12-piece nuggies in less than five minutes is the suffering of a multitude of people who are either unemployed or underemployed because of a disease.
Take this Job and Shove it
Anyone with half an option will choose to not work these sucky service jobs regardless of how much you pay them. It's probably OK if self-checkout kiosk and order ahead apps replace all of these jobs nobody wants anyway.
Gen Z grew up with screens, so the less they interact with people the happier they'll be. The next cadre worries me because they'll probably expect us to work the self check out through mind control or VR headset or something.
You WILL give me a 3 for 1 discount on eggs!!
An Opportunity of a Lifetime
All this is a huge opportunity for programmers, tech bros, venture capital to found the next round of tech that labor intensive businesses MUST buy. Entrepreneur types wax poetic about population collapse and CEOs lament a worker shortage, the tech industry is asking "How do I make a computer do this, because I don't want to."
Humanity's quest toward not wanting to work is a huge long-term opportunity for automation and artificial intelligence. So long as technology works in the service of humanity it is a net benefit for everyone. Automation is happy to do the things we don't want to do, and everything we be fine until we find that their primary programming is in fact a cook book.
Tastes like chicken