The View from My Section The Class of 2020 Part One: The Dawn of a New Workforce

My youngest son started high school this year, which means he is a member of the Class of 2020. For my wife and me, that means he’s entering his last teenage phase before adulthood. A change that takes some getting used to, but at the same time, there’s an air of excitement to what lies ahead and seeing what decisions he’ll make concerning his future. In that regard, however, some interesting information about future prospects for the Class of 2020 brings its own brand of questions and challenges.

For instance, did you know that, with the speed and intensity of technological advancements, companies today are increasingly ceasing to need as much in the way of human resources as before? According to one report by Citibank, for example, China is working towards using robots to replace as much as 77% of its manufacturing workforce. Also, the U.S. Department of Defense, the world’s largest employer, has been using unmanned aircraft for years now. The world’s two other largest employers, Walmart and McDonald’s, are also looking into using robots for such things as inventory counting for the former, and a robotic arm for cooking and serving its customers for the latter. What does this all mean when three of the top ten world’s largest employers are moving quickly towards robots to replace their current human workers?

Quite simply, it means the careers of the future, by as soon as the appearance of the Class of 2020, could be dramatically different than anything we’ve seen in our history. This definitely could impact the career prospects of our current high schoolers. Optimists say, although robots could replace potentially a large portion of today’s typical workforce, there will be new positions that are created in their place, such as robot managers/monitors, robot mechanics and so forth. However, it’s agreed, the new job growth may not outpace the current jobs eliminated as a result of robotics.

Pessimists say that it will create an even further divide between lower- and middle-income workers and senior management and large business owners (emphasis on large). There’s even been mention of some minimum wage jobs being eliminated in favor of robots, if the minimum wage is increased.

This is not exclusive to the United States—as mentioned, China, India and other countries are following the same movement. This emerging trend in robotic technology replacing people doesn’t just happen on the manufacturing floor. It could be happening even in your local fast food restaurant and more. A/I, or Artificial Intelligence, robots can replace white collar positions in areas such as I/T helpdesk functions and customer service. Think of the impact this will have on workers of all ages, including high school teenagers. It also pushes them to think about their career choices, and if those selections could be affected by this trend.

It’s important for this high school freshman class, as they progress and become future business leaders and entrepreneurs, to be aware that the impact of their business decisions can go well beyond just the company’s stock price. How can they become mindful of this?

It takes a willingness to pay attention to the effects of those decision-making strategies as a whole, and realize the influence they have on a grand human scale. The question then becomes, will those in the decision-making roles be cognizant of this? The path they choose could very well decide the direction of this great nation. Hopefully, the leaders of the Class of 2020 will have the clear vision to make the outcome a positive one for all.

This could very well be a most defining high school senior class for our nation’s future. Just think of that the next time you look at fourteen- and fifteen-year-old teenagers playing on their phones and with video games. Think about how their view of our world today could shape their world of tomorrow.