One of Covid-19’s many disruptions to our lives is job losses. We take a look at the situation in the United Kingdom, often held as an example to us lesser folk here in Israel.
As the pandemic continues, the UK unemployment rate in the United Kingdom has reached its highest level in over three years. The majority of the unemployed are aged 16-24. The total number of those claiming work related benefits hit 2.7 million in September – an addition of 1.5 million since the crisis began in March.
Perhaps the United Kingdom is not such a good example for us to follow.
There are now two problems, one long-term and one short-term. The short-term problem is obvious, people need work, now. But the long-term is going to see many of today’s jobs, even professions, disappear.
This is, of course, nothing new. There is very little need for saggar maker’s bottom knockers. (A bottom knocker is not something you might see in an adult magazine. Saggars were used to hold pottery during kiln-firing. The bottom knocker put clay in a metal hoop to make the saggar and shaped its bottom by knocking it into shape.)
A more prosaic profession, long gone, is the Milkman. His daily deliveries of perishable milk, eggs and butter were sent to the history books by the home refrigerator. The list of no longer required professions grows longer every day. The pandemic is accelerating this natural process. We are being forced to look anew at what and how we buy. We are finding new ways of dealing with household problems. We no longer visit the supermarket, on-line orders are brought to our front door. Large supermarkets, occupying prime real estate, will soon be moved to empty wasteland in the Negev.
Things will not go back to “normal” when the virus goes back to sleep.
We must change with the times. Sajid Javid a former UK chancellor of the Exchequer, that’s the finance minister in most other countries, has recently commented on several surveys that show a pessimistic view of the job prospects for graduating students. The universities are churning out graduates with worthless pieces of paper. As the employment market faces a wave of redundancies, the UK is looking at an employment crisis that could rival the collapse in employment last seen some forty years ago.
And yet, misguided students are still signing up for degree courses such as Composition & Rhetoric. (As most readers will know, this is a program that studies the humanistic and scientific elements of rhetoric, composition, literacy, and language theories. It is not clear how this puts bread on the table.)
And another popular degree is Fashion Merchandising. Graduates with a degree in fashion merchandising will find high levels of competition in the job market and almost no chance to use their knowledge and skills in another field.
Journalism is also at risk. Some news organizations are already using machine learning algorithms to fill their pages. Forbes magazine is using an AI tool called Bertie to help reporters write their news stories. Social media and blogging platform are allowing ordinary people, like myself, to become (unpaid) journalists.
Once a sure path to success, holders of a newly-minted degree in Accounting are destined to fall victim to Artificial Intelligence. Tax, payroll, audits, and banking in general, will be completely automated. Accounting software will handle invoice payments, bank reconciliations, risk assessments, and other time-consuming audit processes. Plenty of bread on the table, but only for the large companies, running our lives behind the scenes, not for unemployed graduates.