IT as Job-Killer


by Tim Moran

If you're educated, information technology can be good for you; if you're not, look out.

That's the conclusion of a recently published research paper, according to an article, "More IT means lower salaries for uneducated workers," on ArsTechnica.com.

The study of "the education level of workers in Hong Kong and the penetration of IT in their fields showed that IT can lead to higher salaries--but only for highly educated individuals. Contrary to previous research, scientists found that IT has actually depressed the salaries of many less-educated workers," writes the article's author, Casey Johnston.

The highly educated tend to earn more money in industries that have a high level of IT penetration--finance, social services, and the like--whereas fields such as construction, which require lower levels of education and have little IT penetration, see only slight increases.

But it's not quite that simple: Increased IT involvement can also have a negative effect on certain salaries. "Researchers found that salaries actually varied inversely with IT penetration: the more computers were involved, the less workers were paid. Highly educated workers are able to offset this effect with the positive influence of education-IT interaction-- they can integrate new technologies into their workflow. Less-educated workers, on the other hand, are left blank-faced in front of a computer screen."

This is yet another variation of the "Will Your Job Become Extinct?" scenario, for this negative effect is the direct result of the computer replacing unskilled workers and taking over their tasks.

"More importantly," writes Johnston, "workers below a certain education threshold lack the resources to adapt their skill set. Once they are replaced, they have difficulty finding other work, and it is increasingly hard to find unskilled jobs that haven't been co-opted by IT."

So if you're smart and educated--and especially if you work in IT, right?--you're safe? Well, maybe not. The paper's authors also conclude that computers are moving up the food chain when it comes to taking over tasks, so skilled, educated works had better be able to adapt lest they, too, be replaced.

Say the study's authors: "We wonder how much longer workers will be able to overcome this problem by applying more critical thinking and problem solving ability. Computer scientists are hard at work developing these skills in computers themselves, and it's not beyond the realm of possibility that computers, once they've conquered unskilled work, will move on to more skilled tasks."

It's not beyond the realm to envision software running its own IT department, now, is it?