New Jobs, New Roles Follow Emerging Technologies

Our new world of robots, artificial intelligence and self-driving cars, is creating new jobs and requiring the current workforce to adjust its roles and acquire new skills to make a living in a science-fictional universe.

by Todd Glasscock, Cleburne Times-Review (Cleburne, Texas) / December 15, 2016
Who's behind that Twitter feed? Shutterstock

(TNS) -- It’s a world of robots, artificial intelligence and self-driving cars.

That’s not a description of the next sci-fi blockbuster, but one of the world that now exists, and it’s a world, experts note, creating new jobs and requiring the current workforce to adjust its roles and acquire new skills to make a living in a science-fictional universe.

Automotive technology is one area which has required some of the most significant jumps in the learning curve, especially for those who keep cars and trucks running, said Jerry Hampton, program coordinator for Hill College’s Automotive Technology program in Cleburne.

Since the mid-’70s, when electromechanical transmission systems became standard, the technology and what it requires to repair it has grown like wildfire, he said.

By the 1980s, the earliest onboard diagnostic computers appeared — equipment more sophisticated and with more control than the systems in the Apollo spacecraft that went to the moon, he said. This diagnostic equipment is now about 10 generations along and will keep moving forward as technology moves toward more automated systems, including autonomous driving systems.

“The average technician works on a car that’s 10-20 years old,” he said. A car with computer technology from the 1980s, like the 1987 Buick they have in their program’s shop, might as well be a carriage from the 1890s for their students.

Automotive technicians can earn significant starting salaries, he said. In the DFW area, the salary range starting out is usually more than $40,000 annually.

Computer systems now manage everything from the engine to air bags and entertainment systems using motherboards similar to those found in a PC, said Brian Dimmit, automotive technician and instructor at the school.

And autonomous systems are here, he said. BMW has a self-driving version and, according to Bloomberg online, Uber imported a fleet of autonomous Volvo SUVs to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ready for business this past summer. Those needing a lift can summon the car using the Uber app on their smartphones.

The Volvos are, for the time being, supervised by humans, according to the Bloomberg story. And Volvo and Uber have signed a $300 million deal to get fully autonomous cars out on the streets by 2021.

Although Hill College doesn’t have any driverless cars, yet, they do have a 2010 F250 Ford pickup that’s a self-starter, Dimmit said. The key just has to be slipped into the switch without a twist to get it to start.

Current technologies require technicians with a precise understanding of the diagnostics, he said, and it’s what they train their students to understand. But, those same students, if they continue in the business, must continually keep updated or quickly become obsolete.

The techs have to get certified every five years to keep up with the technology, he said.

“The technicians we’re putting out there now are going to be the last of a breed,” Dimmit said. “In 20 years, you’re going to need an engineering degree to work on cars of that era. It’s just the way it’s going to be.”

Still, while hi-tech skills are necessary, low-tech skills like reading and writing might be even more necessary, Hampton said. The techs have to follow the diagnostic tree precisely to prevent misdiagnosing a problem that could turn into a costly mistake for the car’s owner.

When they work at dealerships on cars still under warranty they have to write a clear, legible step-by-step report to make sure the warranty clerk can approve the repair as eligible under the warranty.

As with any technological advance and transition, according to historian Thomas A. Kinney, some companies fail to make the transition because they didn’t adapt and didn’t have a command of the technological expertise to move forward. In an interview with the New York Times, Kinney, author of “The Carriage Trade: Making Horse-Drawn Vehicles in America,” said many in the wagon and carriage industry couldn’t move into the automobile industry because they lacked such expertise, in particular precision metalworking expertise.

“The people who made the successful transition were not the carriage makers, but carriage parts makers,” he told the Times. Some of those parts companies still exist.

While new technologies can eliminate jobs just as readily as they can create them and can benefit the economy in other ways, these technologies are nothing to fear, writes Newsweek technology writer Kevin Maney.

Maney notes in a recent Newsweek essay that while automatic pumps at gas stations took away service attendant jobs, it dropped the price of gas. At the same time, a company known as Influential uses artificial intelligence derived from IBM’s Watson to roam around on social media to find “influencers.”

In turn, the company works with brands to find matching influencers for their target audiences, Maney writes, which has created a new job, brand influencer.

“Over and over again,” he writes, “the robot economy will invent work we can’t even dream of today, much as the internet gave birth to unforeseen careers. Nobody’s grandmother was a search engine optimization specialist. Today, that job pays pretty well.”

©2016 the Cleburne Times-Review (Cleburne, Texas) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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