As soon as the fantasy land that is an AI-powered society hits everyone over the head like a hard sack of reality, fear of future unemployment in the face of automation will loom overhead. And the reason for this disconcertedness is warranted: according to a report by McKinsey, by the year 2030, some 73–375 million jobs will be at risk due to automation. In the US alone, 25% of jobs will face extinction in the workforce of tomorrow. Occupations most at risk include: manufacturing jobs, jobs that are considered manually repetitive, and most minimum-wage occupations, all of which can do without the human element in the age of AI. Clearly, there is concern surrounding this topic. So, what does Gen Z think about all of this?
Overall, I would postulate that we do not fear automation. The reason for this is rooted in economics and digital transformation. Allow me to explain. Gen Z was born into a time of great change, both good and bad. We experienced the effects of economic uncertainty during the recessionary periods of the early 2000s and 2008 intervals, and we were born into a time of great digital volatility in society (the internet era, the birth of social media, and launch of novel technologies that we were quick to uptake). As a result of this, we learned that in order to “survive” in this climate one had to be adaptable, one had to be willing to embrace change, and embody a dynamic mentality. Indeed, switching occupations often, as well as having to amend one’s toolkit of skills, has become a common trend in today’s digital economy, and Generation Z has been swift to adapt to this new rule of law.
Unlike generations prior, we aren’t anchored to static, traditional sectors like manufacturing or manually driven jobs––which means that the threat of automation impacts us less, by default. Rather, we are very much integrated in the current digital economy, taking on fully remote occupations, such as social media strategy, analytics related professions, and more. While these latter jobs do have the potential to be automated by AI, Gen Z is not concerned about this because our dynamic mindset makes us willing and able to undergo reskilling/upskilling programs in order to acclimate to the new-age digital economy, and learn to operate with artificial intelligence by our side.
However, what our generation is worried about is the adverse effect of automation on the economy as a whole. In other words, we might not personally care about automation, but given that we will not comprise the majority of the future workforce even 10 years down the line, it will be important for generations before us to also adopt the reskilling/upskilling mentality. Otherwise, this could prompt another economic slowdown. Indeed, after speaking to some fellow Gen Z members, they also expressed this sentiment:
“I'm not worried for my future profession, but I'm worried that so many people in the older generation will be displaced, and it will have a negative impact on everyone indirectly. We're barring a majority of people from higher education so they go to the abundance of jobs working for big companies doing mundane repetitive work, at a time when most of that will be replaced in the next few decades,” relayed one of my friends.
Another acquaintance of mine also carried similar doubts about the situation with older generations:
“I’m not sure that they’re up for it. I mean, people who are Gen X, they tend to be opposed to this kind of change, but it’s inevitable. And I worry that my parents might have a hard time functioning in society 5, 10, 20 years from now because of all of this new stuff with AI. At least I’m willing to learn new skills. I’m hesitant to say the same for my parents or grandparents.”
So, to wrap it up: we do not personally fear automation, and that is a result of our economic and digital/societal upbringing. However, we do fear automation to the extent that if older generations resist adaptation, it will negatively impact our digital economy as a whole.