Human workforce versus automation

Throughout history there has been a struggle between technology and the human workforce. You may recall that the Port of Johnstown recently announced the modernization of its facilities. No employee will lose their job and in fact they hope to increase their workforce as a result of this update. Unfortunately, this is a rarity – the same cannot be said in British Columbia.

According to a research report by Prism Economics and Analysis for the union, 6,000 jobs could be lost in the province if the ports are upgraded to include substantially more automation and over 10,000 jobs could be impacted if fully automated facilities were to replace the existing terminals. “It is clear that the loss of jobs stemming from automation will have a significant impact on lost wages for individual workers but also the communities in which they live,” the report said.

Sunil Johal, a fellow at the Brokfield institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship who studies automation, said in an interview with the Vancouver Star that fears about the number of job losses that automation could bring about are sometimes overblown and that the efficiencies brought about by automation also beget new jobs. But Johal also added that there should be a real sense of urgency in how the government, employers and labour unions prepare for the way jobs will change as a result of automation, with an eye to retraining people who lose their jobs through automation for jobs that become available around the same time.

“That’s something all sectors — not just ports — will have to think about”, said Johal.

There is no denying that as technology continues to progress, so will the way we work change. But as we have seen over time, automation needs to be seen as an enhancement to the workplace and can never replace the value of a human being.

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