An impending perfect storm: The collision of automation and an aging workforce
- A new Bain & Company study predicts that employers will continue to struggle with current pension commitments, a skilled-workers shortage, social pressure to address depressed wages among mid- to low-skilled workers and layoffs. Automation will change the makeup of the workforce, but displaced workers' transition into higher-skilled jobs is expected to be slow, challenging employers to attract, develop and retain highly skilled workers. The study also predicts a rising generational conflict, as the retiring workforce and the generations of workers left behind clash over resources.
- The study says all of these factors will collide, causing global economic disruption by 2030. Bain's Macro Trends Group says an aging population will slow labor growth to 0.4% a year, and while automation will increase labor output, it also will widen the income gap between high- and low-paid workers by displacing 40 million and creating high-paying jobs for a specialized few.
- Automation could drive a 10- to 15-year economic boom, followed by an economic downturn, according to the study. Companies might feel pressured by their competitors to invest in automation, but Bain recommends that investors monitor their exposure to risk because it predicts that markets will be more volatile in 2030.
Technology will continue to bring "waves of change" to the solid waste industry. While some ideas, like Rubicon's recent patent for a fully autonomous collection system (trucks and bins both included) may seem a bit futuristic, other trends are already changing how companies operate.
From data collection for fleet management, to tapping into the "Internet of Things," to enhancing sorting at MRFs and even phasing-in autonomous collections vehicles, disruptive technology is taking root in the waste industry, and change is likely to continue.
While tech can improve safety, it can also create redundancies and, in some instances, is even expected to eliminate the need for millions of workers. Companies and local governments will have to act carefully to maintain smooth operations and manage the impacts of automation.
Workplaces now have as many as five generations working side by side, exacerbating present conflict. For example, millennials in a EurekaFacts study said they felt baby boomers and Gen X bosses were blocking their advancement. Such conflicts may continue for longer than expected, as boomers are staying in the workplace longer, either by choice or necessity.
However, the boomers that do leave are creating a brain drain, or skills and knowledge deficit, that's hard to fill with today's skills and labor shortages. Some employers are addressing the problem through phased retirement, part-time work or contract arrangements.
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