Could AI cause major job losses for blue-collar workers?

Generative AI is rapidly spreading across a number of different industries, posing a potential threat to both white and blue-collar jobs

The advancement in technologies such as AI and machine learning has been a revolutionary step for many companies. 

Today, leading organisations are focused on the importance and benefits that artificial intelligence can bring to the business, along with how the technology provides substantial advantages to both large and small corporations, enabling growth, enhancing decision-making and transforming the field of management.

However, there is speculation amongst workers that AI platforms, such as ChatGPT, will one day replace them and take over their jobs in the workforce.

Blue-collar workers often have a diverse set of skills that go beyond their primary field of expertise. This enables them to take on a number of different projects and tasks, making them a valuable asset to any organisation.

This multifaceted skill set enables blue-collar professionals to engage in complex projects, adjust to changing work requirements, and fill multiple roles within their industry. In contrast, AI is tailored for specific tasks and lacks the adaptability and versatility characteristics that blue-collar workers bring.

How is AI impacting the workforce?

The founder and principal of Intellibus, Ed Watal, explained to Fox Business how AI is rapidly accelerating the fourth industrial revolution, and manufacturing is already being transformed through automation, predictive maintenance and quality control that is changing operations.

He notes that over the past several years, smart transport robots (STRs) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in warehouses and factories have already started eliminating tasks like operating forklifts, but the advent of Gen AI means the technology can handle other, more complex operations that are currently handled by humans.

Gen AI models can act as a "digital twin" for a production line or plant, Watal says and can be used in production or simply to run simulations without the need for shutting down a line or operating an expensive pilot plant.

"As Gen AI gets applied to computer vision and becomes more multi-modal, allowing people to upload an image or video and ask questions about it, more blue-collar jobs will be at risk," Watal notes.

"Such capabilities will drastically reduce the need for multiple ‘experienced’ workers, as their knowledge and expertise gets captured in their ‘digital supervisor twin’," he said. "A single digital supervisor twin may be able to support all maintenance or quality engineers for a given production line or factory."

Why we still need white and blue-collar workers

According to Goldman Sachs analysis from earlier this year, advancements in Gen AI could put up to 300,000mn jobs at risk worldwide due to automation, with manufacturing firms having already become early AI adopters. 

White-collar professionals are of course at risk too, and it’s not only jobs involving data collection and analysis where AI poses a threat, it’s creative industries, media jobs, technology roles including coders and computer programmers, legal professionals, and many more where AI could take over and replace workers.

However, despite the progress that has been made - and is still being made - in AI and automation, blue-collar jobs remain secure for the time being. The qualities the blue-collar professionals have, including complex problem-solving, practical skills, hands-on expertise, emotional intelligence, adaptability, and versatility, make them essential in fields like HVAC, plumbing, electrics, machining, and aerospace.

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