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Technology and the Death of the Minimum Wage Marketplace: How To Prepare Your Company and Your Employees

TECHNOLOGYDeath_BillboardThink $15 an hour is a step forward for the unskilled worker? Think again. Existing technology and tomorrow’s promise of even greater artificial intelligence spell doom for the unskilled, minimum wage worker. It’s a classic case of one step forward, two steps back. Let me explain.

Every minimum wage worker in the United States can now look forward with salivating anticipation to a fatter paycheck. What great progress for the unskilled employee! But wait, how will commercial and industrial businesses absorb the extra costs of labor? Surely even the unskilled must realize that increased costs generally result in decreased profits. And when the bottom line is squeezed, business owners will search for ways to offset the extra costs. The solution? Increased and more efficient use of technology.

As with any apparent forward progress, there are unintended consequences. For example, the bank ATM has been one of the most valuable technological creations for banks and their customers alike. Withdrawing money from an individual account no longer requires the assistance of a living, breathing teller. The unforeseen consequence? Financial institutions no longer need as many tellers. In hindsight, maybe that shouldn’t have been so unforeseen, but I digress…

Bank tellers, however, are just one of a growing list of casualties in humanity’s evolution and march forward. History has already given us a long list of labor positions that have fallen victim to changing economic conditions, as well as those eliminated by advancing technology: telephone operators, elevator operators, train pullmen, maids, porters and data entry clerks, to name only a few. Just as the internet became the catalyst for the “information revolution,” technology is again creating a revolution in the unskilled, minimum wage marketplace.

One of the most impacted segments of that marketplace: quick serve (fast food) restaurants. The vast majority of their employee base falls in the category of “unskilled, minimum wage” worker. These restaurants are perhaps on the front line for assessing the impact of a higher minimum wage versus greater use of technology and technological advancements. Wendy’s and McDonald’s look to be the forerunners for what may prove to become a mass migration over the next decade. Self-serve kiosks, mobile ordering apps, and mobile pay provide a unique opportunity for these fast-food giants: the reduction, if not total elimination, of the minimum wage employee. And if preliminary results are any indication, they will exceed our expectations for success. After all, the internet, iPhone and Apple have created a new breed of customer: iPOP’s, short for “Personally Oblivious to the need for People.”

This iPOP customer is already familiar with a kiosk, is completely comfortable with a computer screen and prefers to swipe their phone to complete the transaction using Apple Pay. Looking at from their perspective, why wouldn’t the QSR giants transition to fewer employees and greater use of technology? Humanity is once again marching forward, but this time, there’s a joint partner: technology. And as technology leads the way, some elements of the current economy are bound to perish along the way: we may witness the death of many of the unskilled minimum wage employee positions.

We’ve already been promised driverless trucks and vehicles that will transport goods and people, which sounds like an eventual employment death knell for taxi drivers and truck drivers. Clearly, the minimum wage jobs are not the only ones at risk – technology is changing the workplace – and fast.

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This time there will be a greater impact. Why? This “fourth industrial revolution” impacts a large portion of our society – the minimum wage, unskilled worker can be found across many industries and in great number. So don’t expect them to go quietly. There will be unintended consequences, not the least among them a disgruntled, unhappy segment of the workforce. If your company employs minimum wage workers and has iPOP customers, you need to embrace the coming technology revolution while at the same time preparing yourself to accommodate a workforce looking for answers.