Will Robots Create Good Jobs?

Automation poses a threat to millions of workers, but it could create opportunities for a few.

Issei Kato / Reuters

There is a great deal of anxiety about the rise of so-called robot workers, programmed to do all of the work needed, rendering us human workers obsolete. And not without reason: One grim figure in this conversation is an estimate that 47 percent of workers in the U.S. are now at risk of automation.

But will the coming technological shifts create jobs too? And will those jobs be good ones? That’s the focus of a recent report by BSR, a non-profit that works with over 250 companies on sustainability.

BSR defines a “good” job: it’s one that provides sufficient income, is open to everyone, doesn’t harm the health and safety of the worker, and has room for growth into other roles. Jessica Davis Pluess, the author of the report, recommends that companies should be studying how automation will change their business, and further, they should develop career pathways for those who might be replaced by a machine.

“The research was really trying to understand what are some of the key issues that companies could face in terms of automating, in terms of the impact on current and future workforces and really trying to understand how automation connects so that more people can benefit from this era of technology change,” says Davis Pluess.

In the end, the picture is still pretty bleak. “When we looked at the latest research, the number of jobs eliminated is more significant than some of the jobs created,” says Davis Pluess. “But it is really hard to measure the jobs created, because I think that work is not going to look the same.”