The third industrial revolution beginning around the 1960s has forced many occupations and industries to alter the way they operate. For example, all branches of the media, education, health care, the configuration of industries and occupations have undergone some transformation. Over time, different skills are needed requiring existing workers to be retrained, and new workers to receive the necessary training.
Consider two examples:
- Farming, over the past hundred years, has gone from being less labour to more capital intensive with mechanization, new strains of grains and breeds of cattle. More output is produced using both the product of researchers working in labs and less direct farm labour. In the past, refrigeration and railroads made an enormous difference to both output and the distance between producer and consumer. Those losing their farm jobs either had to retrain or move to another occupation. Adjustments were easier for some than others.
- Computers and the internet have an enormous impact on the way many goods and services are produced and distributed. Authors can deliver manuscripts electronically to publishers, who in turn make them available for readers to peruse and buy online. Cut out of this business are printers, wholesalers, bookstores and libraries, although the last may loan hard copies as well as eBooks.
In earlier times, changes occurred with the introduction of steam, the internal combustion engine and electricity. It is debatable which of these have had the greatest impact, and perhaps it is unimportant to know the answer. What is of interest is who is affected, and how capital and especially labour can adapt to the changes today.
The adjustment process is often associated with the argument that good, meaning higher paid, manufacturing jobs have been lost, while there has been a growth of lower paid unskilled jobs. Some, especially older workers, may find it difficult to retrain at all. For example, those employed using metal print type found it difficult to adapt to computer typesetting. Some did, while those entering the labour force have the opportunity to receive the education and training required by the technology in use today.
Employment statistics today show the allocation of firms to industry classes defined in earlier times, when the inputs and the technology used by these firms were different.
Consider agriculture. Employment in agriculture is about 2% of the Canadian labour force today, compared with around 40% in 1900, while agricultural output has expanded enormously. This is due to the output of the farm machinery industry (eg. tractors and combine harvesters), refrigeration, transportation, research into the production of new strains of grains, vegetables and fruit amongst others. Those working in these industries are counted as employees of these industries, not as agricultural employment. The loss of farm related jobs is not as great as imagined.
Consider automobile manufacturing. Output is more automated now than in the past, requiring less labour on the production line. At the same time, persons are needed to build, program and maintain the machinery used in production. These won’t be counted as part of automotive employment but as part of other industries. Similar changes can occur when a manufacturing firm has an accounting and legal department, and then decides to contract out the work to independent firms. Manufacturing employment declines and services employment rises. The output may remain unchanged.
A survey of employees by wage level does show that the proportion of lower wage and part-time jobs has increased. Why? It can mean that existing workers have not adjusted to the requirements of different industries and sectors, and may do so in the future. It may be that new workers are not receiving the type of training required by firms. More students do seem to be gravitating to community colleges, where trades are taught, either in conjunction with university classes or as a separate course of study. The conclusion that Canada is losing well paid jobs has to be understood in context.
An undergraduate degree in the arts does not hold out good job prospects, unless accompanied by postgraduate study, and work experience mixed in with academic study. A strong CV includes volunteer as well as paid work while studying and definitely during vacations. It may start with baby-sitting, gardening and dishwashing. There is no shortage of these types of jobs. Also an employer will search the internet for postings and communication by an employee applicant. Nothing is confidential and never has been.