Retailers like Walmart are embracing robots

Who needs a worker checking shelves when you have a robot? AP Photo/David J. Phillip

How can workers prepare for a future of increasingly automated work?

Retailers like Walmart are embracing robots – here’s how workers can tell if they’ll be replaced

Courtesy of Beth Humberd, University of Massachusetts Lowell and Scott F. Latham, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Walmart recently said it plans to deploy robots to scan shelves, scrub floors and perform other mundane tasks in its stores as the retail giant seeks to lower labor costs.

While the retail giant did not say which jobs, if any, might be lost as a result, the announcement – and the many more surely to follow at other big box retailers – begs the question: How can workers prepare for a future of increasingly automated work?

Millions of today’s jobs are expected to be affected by artificial intelligence and automation as part of the “fourth industrial revolution.” But just which occupations are most at risk has been a guessing game among economists, futurists and scholars trying to predict winners and losers.

As experts on workers’ identities and careers and industry and technological change, we developed a new tool we believe will help workers more accurately determine the fate of their professions – and figure out how best to prepare.

Who will be hurt

A host of research studies have examined where industrial revolution 4.0 is likely to wield its greatest impact.

Driven by a focus on cost and efficiency, most predictions pit one group of workers against another. For example, blue collar versus white collar, skilled versus unskilled, college-educated versus not college-educated and even predictions by race and gender.

While these broad groupings may grab headlines, they offer little guidance to individual workers at a time when, more than ever, individuals are expected to take responsibility for managing and driving their own careers.

Rather than focus on efficiency or cost, our research offers a more nuanced and sustainable tool for examining the fate of one’s profession: value.

While humans will still value the skills of a college professor in the future, AI and online learning tools are threatening the way those abilities are delivered. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

This value matrix helps workers assess the threat their occupations face based on the two components of value. Latham and Humberd, MIT Sloan Management Review, Author provided

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