Innovative technology typically reduces labor requirements, but self-service technology appears to be not only creating new jobs but increasing productivity.
Recent reports and studies indicate that the self-service industry is not only creating a multitude of high-skill and higher-pay jobs, but also fueling the U.S. economy though increased productivity and efficiency.
"The concern about kiosks â€˜putting people out of jobs'ã€€is not new; historically whenever labor-saving devices have been introduced, people worry about the impact it will have on them, but virtually all economic studies find that technologies like kiosks that boost economic productivity do not lead to higher levels of unemployment in the medium and long-term," said Daniel Castro, a senior analyst with theInformation Technology and Innovation Foundation(ITIF), a nonpartisan research group that helps formulate and promote public policies to advance innovation, productivity and digital economy issues.
On June 22, ITIF president Robert D. Atkinson testified before the U.S. Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation and Export Promotion. Atkinson told senators that expanding the role of innovation such as self-service technology is pivotal to creating better jobs, igniting the economy and ensuring American prosperity. (To read Atkinson's full statement to the committee, clickhere.)
"Properly conceived, innovation is not just about creating more jobs for engineers and managers in high technology industries," Atkinson told senators. "It is also about providing higher wage jobs for workers in manufacturing and low-tech services."
Due to the abundance of low-wage workforces in other nations, many labor-intensive jobs have shifted overseas, making it even more important for innovative industries such as self-service to expand, Atkinson said. He encouraged Congress to implement policies that support expansion of innovative technology and train workers for new types of jobs.
In recent years, many labor unions and other groups have voiced concern about job loss spurred by automation. For instance, author Marshall Brian, a former computer science professor who founded HowThingsWork.com, contends that self-service technology has eliminated millions of jobs in the past decade.
"Automated retail systems like ATMs, kiosks and self-service checkout lines marked the beginning of the robotic revolution," Brian wrote ina recent article."Over the course of 15 years starting in 2001, these systems proliferated and evolved until nearly every retail transaction could be handled in an automated way. Five million jobs in the retail sector were lost as a result of these systems."
ITIF also acknowledges that an increasingly self-service-oriented society will likely reduce employment opportunities for low-wage workers such as grocery store cashiers and movie rental clerks.
"With innovation, you generally see a shift in the economy from lower-value, lower-wage jobs to higher-value, higher-wage jobs," Castro said. "For example, if consumers save money by renting DVDs for $1 per night at a Blockbuster EXPRESS rather than at a brick-and-mortar rental store, they end up spending that money on other goods and services. So while you may not have as many movie rental clerks, you might have more people employed at restaurants or gyms.ã€€Plus, you have entirely new industries employing workers to create, install, maintain and repair kiosks and other self-service technology."
Finding an accurate estimate of employees in the self-service industry is challenging, Castro says, but the economic benefits of the self-service industry are evident. Earlier this year,ITIF released a reportexploring how advancements in technology such as touchscreen displays and card readers are becoming a positive driving force for the U.S. economy.
"Technological changes often mean job displacement," the report concluded. "The answer is not to impede these advances but to help workers adapt and learn the skills a changing economy demands."
Others agree that the self-service industry's positive economic impact is expanding.
"While certain self-service applications do, in fact, automate a number of tasks, this does not necessarily equate to cutting jobs, but cutting costs related to delivering service," said Cheryl Madeson, marketing manager for KIOSK Information Systems, which has designed, manufactured and deployed more than 100,000 kiosks. "Often, when deployers supplement with automation of routine tasks, employees are still utilized to provide assistance on more complex tasks. Many deployments are leveraged to do more with the same resources, control costs and increase profitability."
KIOSK Information Systems and other self-service organizations are also contributing directly to workforce growth and development by hiring more employees.
"2010 has been an excellent year for KIOSK in terms of high-quality new job growth," Madeson said. "We've staffed up by 20 percent across multiple disciplines, including manufacturing, engineering, program management, sales, customer services and supply line management.ã€€Faster deployment timelines from customers are becoming a distinct trend, and KIOSK has aligned the size of our professional teams to support this demand."