I recently went to a local media business where a couple of my longtime friends work. I go there a couple times a year, and it’s always the same thing. I do what I came there to do, and then we gather, and everything dissolves into a joke session. That’s how it was until the other day.
Before we could get into our yuk-it-ups, one of the two friends — the one who is usually the target of most of my zingers — shook my hand, then told me quietly that his job as a content specialist was being phased out.
It wasn't the conversation I expected. He showed me the new technology that was putting him and some of his co-workers on the sidelines. He was matter-of-fact in the rest of our conversation. He understood that technology rules the day and, in the end, it saves the employer money.
He worked in his position for the past 15 years. As more technology moved in, the handwriting on the wall was not in his favor. But, to a certain degree, he didn’t want to believe his days there would end for another year or so. My friend, who is over 60 years old, will join the thousands, perhaps millions of middle-class workers being steamrolled by technology and its marriage partner, budget cuts.
Years ago, when the old State-Times newspaper in Baton Rouge closed, a lot of my friends were let go. I was lucky. But it was terrible to witness.
The World Economic Forum predicts that 60 million extra jobs will be created worldwide by 2022 as automation takes over. But at the same time, 75 million jobs will be displaced.
And WEF also claims that it won’t just be just low-skilled jobs eliminated as most people think. It will be middle-class jobs such as bank tellers, accountants, insurance clerks, executive secretaries, auditors, business services managers, truck drivers and even financial analysts.
That artificial intelligence and technology are killing jobs is not new. It’s why people are driving cars and not riding horses all the time. Have you seen the technology being installed at some fast-food restaurants?
Visited a grocery store lately? Clerks have been replaced with self-checkout machines. I hate that, because it seems I’m paying for my groceries and doing the business of clerks, thereby saving the store money.
At my friend’s age, it’s not shocking that technology, especially in the media industry, has dealt him a bad hand. But few want to leave a job they loved and to walk away from a group of people who had become a second family over the years.
According to the Economist magazine, my friend falls into a tough age group for shifting to AI-driven jobs. The magazine said a survey of Western countries “found that only 10 percent of adults aged 55-65 were able to complete new multiple-step technological tasks, compared with 42 percent of those aged 25 to 54.”
I asked if he was going to try to train for a remaining position in his company, one involving some of the technology that’s taken away several jobs.
“Nah. I don’t think so,” he said, suggesting he is preparing himself to move on, maybe to something else. He admits that for a couple years, he had brushed aside the idea he would be forced to leave. Still, there was a smidgen of hope that it wouldn’t happen.
He put it this way. “You knew it was coming, but then all of a sudden the hammer comes down, and it hurts a little.”
My friend said he is not angry or upset with anyone. He understands that progress cuts away jobs but also builds new ones, except the new ones don’t always fit the people losing their jobs.
In thinking about his final days on the job, he is reflective.
“The times are changing. What are you going to do?” he asked. “I’m not upset or anything like that. But it is bittersweet. Like most people, I wanted to leave on my own terms.”
His next comments fit the friend I’ve known so long.
“God has my back,” he said. “I have faith that something will come my way.”
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly column for this newspaper, at firstname.lastname@example.org.