Column: Workers' Comp

Fear Not the Robot

By: | January 10, 2018

Roberto Ceniceros is a retired senior editor of Risk & Insurance® and the former chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. Read more of his columns and features.

Several reports on the changing nature of work and the future of jobs conclude that plentiful employment will continue for (injury prone) humans despite the continuing adoption of artificial intelligence, robotics and other automation.

Technology might even generate more jobs than it eliminates by fueling productivity gains and economic expansion, although many workers will need to shift work paths amid the coming major transitions.

Keeping the economy healthy and the labor force employed as technology advances will also require greater investment in education and retraining programs for displaced workers. Unfortunately, retraining workers is something at which neither the U.S. government or the private sector excel.  Job training certainly isn’t a current national priority.

Overall though, growing concern over the existence of future jobs given automation’s impact may be unfounded, according to a December, 2017 McKinsey & Company report titled “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation.”

McKinsey forecasts that by 2030, about 9 percent of labor demand will come from occupations that do not exist today.  According to Gartner, the IT-focused research and advisory firm, AI will create 2 million net new jobs by 2025.

The workers’ compensation industry has its eye on these trends, and concerns have been expressed that a decline in payroll numbers through automation may adversely impact those who work in workers’ compensation.

But forecasts pointing to continued job creation over the next 15 years and beyond mean a continuing stream of workers’ comp insurance premiums and claimants needing services.

Of course, the nature of work will continue evolving, pushed along by automation. Look no further than workers’ comp’s own claims practices and how AI and technology are changing the adjuster role.

Shifting work roles will force underwriters to reevaluate the new jobs and risks they will want to insure.  But that is nothing new, insurers have frequently adjusted their risk mix to better manage their books.

Future economic expansion, though, and the severity of economic cycles may be predicated on the ability of workers to adapt to new roles, requiring knowledge that allows them to work alongside technology.

The speed of recovery from recessions, for instance, will depend on large portions of the workforce possessing the education, skills, and training necessary to shift into new, technology-related roles.

None of that means that all jobs, and thus workers’ comp insurance products, will be replaced by robots and AI.  If the advisory companies’ predictions prove true, the resiliency of the nation’s workforce may be more a focus of concern than fears over whether robots will replace the majority of human workers. &

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