How about a world where there is 75% unemployment because there won't be enough high-skills jobs that require humans? A world where low-skilled labor, often provided by staffing companies, will be replaced by a so-called robot economy? Those are some of the predictions put forth by this Future of Business series, which examines how cutting-edge technologies are rapidly reshaping our world. In Part One here, we examined the changes in the office environment itself. For this post we'll look at impacts to the workforce.

Despite the sentiment put forth by Gregg Dourgarian, myself and other contributors to Staffing Talk that too many young people go to four-year colleges today, the authors of the Future of Business series say by 2020 advanced economies will have too few college-educated workers and too many with secondary degrees.

That conclusion, based on data from such sources as the French and American governments, labor groups, and The McKinsey Global Institute predicts the following:

  • Demand for high skill workers exceeding supply by 10% by 2020
  • Supply for medium-skill workers exceeding supply by 11% by 2020

In China, demand for high skill workers is expected to outpace supply by an even higher number, 16%

Let's move on to those low-skills jobs now, drilling down specifically in the area of robotics and the rapid rise of industrial robot use. The authors of the Future of Business series state in a rather simple slide that "low-skilled labor will be replaced by a robot economy."

Au contraire says The International Federation of Robotics in this research paper called the Positive Impact of Industrial Robots on Employment. They claim between two and three million jobs in this country in such areas as electronics, automotive, chemicals and plastics, would simply not exist if it weren't for robotics.

Between two and three million jobs in this country in such areas as electronics, automotive, chemicals and plastics, would simply not exist if it weren't for robotics.

And further, that by 2016, 700,000 - 1 million new jobs will be created by the expanding use of robotics, including 200,000 new jobs in the automotive sector alone.

"If you've got some technology out there that can help you compete, then you need to employ it," said an unnamed "robotics expert" in the IFR report. "That's the way to protect jobs, and the way to hopefully create new ones."

Here's where I am kind of confused by the Future of Business series. The authors say in a slide (see below) "all sorts of low-skill labor, including office support jobs, will be replaced." And they cite American Staffing Association and U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics among others showing a decline in jobs in the employment-services areas of office support, transportation, production and construction.

But then in that same slide they state the mix of contract workers is shifting toward highly skilled professional areas such as education, health care, financial, etc. And a couple of slides later, they say companies will increasingly rely on outsourcing and freelancers for both high and low-skilled jobs.

So I understand, even if I don't necessarily agree, when they contend that jobs are being lost, due to advances in technology such as robots or what have you. But then they say in many cases those jobs aren't truly being lost, they are simply shifting from W-2 employees to something else, such as contract workers or freelancers. That is a very distinct difference, and it contains ramifications for the staffing industry for sure.

Since the recession, part-time work for economic reasons has also risen substantially, according to U.S. Department of Labor numbers.

I'll leave it there, though, and hopefully initiate some discussion. What do you think about some of these arguments and predictions? Do too many young Americans go to college, or can you see a shortage looming? What about the demand for low-skill laborers? Do you think robots help - or hurt - the economy?  Is the shift away from a W-2 workforce and permanent employees a positive for the staffing industry? We'd love to get your thoughts.

Tags: Freelancers, Staffing Companies, Industry, Freelancing, Industrial production, Contract workers, High skill workers, Industrial robotics, Industrial Staffing, Low skill workers, Robot economy, Staffing demand, Temporary staffing decline, Temporary staffing industry, Temporary staffing solutions, W-2 workers