Deskilling Debate: Will Technology Lead to Human Unemployment? - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1570 Words
Date:  2023-01-28


The idea that machines will replace humans in the future has been explored by many. Movies are depicting how the technology that human beings rely on can lead to human extinction. The same concept and ideology can be applied to deskilling, will technology lead to unemployment of humans, and is it still considered a vital aspect in production. The deskilling debate has become more prominent over the years as the world experiences technological change. The effects of new technology on production have been under analysis by various authors. Such as Harry Braverman, Adam Smith, and many others to be either a positive or negative process. While deskilling poses adverse outcomes for the employed in the workforce, the technological advancements and benefits play a crucial role in proving it is a necessary evil.

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The definition of deskilling is the elimination of skilled labor by machines and technology operated by semi-skilled workers. It is also referred to as the low proficiency of employees. It has been subject to multiple definitions by various authors depending on their opinion of the process. The question of what is deskilling can thus be answered in numerous ways by multiple scientists. Deskilling, however, is still a vital component of production as it is clear that new conditions of production call for a multifaceted employee. One who can meet the demands of production processes that need in-depth use of information technology and related to product consumption of products with a high technological density.The effects of technological change on production are classified according to deterministic social views, classical economists, and Marxists. Social deterministic aspects assert that technology has no impact on labor and production; it is the strategic choices that one makes that will affect the product. The contention is under disputes by Marxists such as Harry Braverman who assert that technology has negative connotations on production. Managerialism, on the other hand, believes in the positive effects of technology on manufacturing.

Deskilling According to Classical Economist Adam Smith

Classical economist Adam Smith discussed the causes and effects of increasing division of labor in his book. Adam Smith regarded deskilling as the unique product of the increased division of labor. Men are more likely to discover more straightforward methods of producing particular objects when their minds' on more straightforward tasks (Smith, A.2010, 20). The invention of machinery was, therefore, owing to the specialization and allocation of single tasks. In his witnessing of the Industrial Revolution, he related the technical change to the increase in division of labor that accompanied economic development.

The simplification of tasks for each worker resulted in unintended deskilling of labor due to labor facilitated and abridged by the application of proper machinery. He continued to portray that a man whose life is spent carrying out a straightforward task with no change and similar effects every time. The person will have no exertion to use his understanding and hence becomes stupid and ignorant. The same division of labor that increased the dexterity of the worker will be responsible for reduced proficiency of the same worker and hence deskilling of labor (Smith, A.2010, 23). Smith, therefore, adopted the deskilling of labor to be attributed to technology as well as proficiency of the employee, and hence deskilling is inherent to capitalism. To conclude Smith's views, he provided conflicting views as he stated that division of labor and technology increase economic development at the same time stating that further division of labor deskilled workers and left them unemployed, hence deskilling is a vital component of production.

Deskilling According to Marxist Harry Braverman

Harry Braverman is popularly known for his work on the deskilling of workers through his thesis based on Marxist theories and focusing on Taylorism aspects of scientific management. He analyzed the industrial capitalization of America in the 20th century, which led to the deskilling of labor. Managers and employees applied scientific management principles by Frederick Taylor. Managers withheld all the decision making from employees and plan jobs so that employees carry out simple tasks and hence reducing labor costs (Braverman, H.1974, 63). The advent of Technology was replacing employees or motivating them to work faster. The principle was adopted by Ford, who had mass production where workers perform repetitive tasks which require little to no training. The Fordism theory led Braverman to believe that the level of skill necessary for work has reduced under capitalism.

Braverman, therefore, identified deskilling as a mechanism through which managers control employees to increase profits by reducing labor costs and using Technology. Technology alone cannot deskill. Although Braverman was criticized for generalizing the aspect of Taylorism and other elements, his hypothesis on deskilling depicted the negative influence of Technology on workers and standards of living (Braverman, H.1974, 81). According to him, the 20th century fought with capitalism and deskilling of laborers except for a golden age in the 19th century, where there was a balance between the levels of Technology and high employee skills. Deskilling is, therefore, not a vital role in the production as a balance is achievable between skilled workers and Technology used to facilitate and abridge labor.

Deskilling is only a biased effect of technical advancement if machines are not complementing humans. The question of whether Technology can cause permanent unemployment raises two camps of researchers, according to Brynjolfson and McAfee. Some defended the onset of technology and machine advancements in the industrial revolution claiming that although machines cost workers their jobs, the nature of capitalism creates better opportunities for the workers. Economist Maynard Keynes presented the second camp articulating that Technology can indeed cause permanent unemployment, which he dubbed technological unemployment (Brynjolfson, E. and McAfee, A.2014, 173).

Brynjolfson and Mcfee narrate a scenario of the android experiment. The assumption is that there is an endless supply of Androids that can perform all the tasks that a human worker can undertake. The outcome of such a scenario would be the skyrocketing of output and production activities and reduced labor costs. The managers and owners can achieve double the output with less money through the machines set to mimic humans. It would lead to unemployment of workers who would have only their skills to offer, rendered worthless by the Androids. The thought experiment, therefore, proffers that there is no law that technical progress must always lead to job creation and that machines can cause permanent unemployment. "The better machines can substitute for human workers, the more likely they'll drive down the wages of humans with similar skills." (Brynjolfson, E. and McAfee, A.2014, 181).

An analysis of the globalization in China and America revealed, however, that despite China using multiple technologies advances labor and skills are still high and complement Technology. China has attained the age of technology adjuncts humans and leads to high levels of output. Technology, therefore, does not have to cause deskilling of labor; it can increase production and employment, forming a complementary force (Brynjolfson, E. and McAfee, A.2014, 183).

As per the analysis of Adam Smith and Braverman's views on deskilling, it can yield positive and negative outcomes depending on one's perspective. Machines and Technology have already been introduced in industries and offices in our day and age. Technology has proven to not only deskill but also upskill. Use of automated systems has led to the upgrade in skills of workers by imparting knowledge in the technical skills and therefore developing computer skills. Technology can be implemented without deskilling taking place where it expands workers skillsets instead of diminishing them and helping build up competencies.

Critical theorists have studied Technology and its effects attempting to safeguard that all outcomes of technological advancements have been studied. Studies show that deskilling rarely occurs individually, rather where there is deskilling, there is upskilling. When the two occur, they lead to reskilling. For a new technology to be introduced in an organization, workers need to have the necessary skills to operate. In every introduction of further technical advancement, the employees, skillset will be upgraded to learn how to work the machine before it is deskilled. Deskilling mainly occurs in marginalized jobs where knowledge to be gained from the machine increases until the employee's experience becomes diminished; that is what the employee had learned about the situation, such as typists. Deskilling can, therefore, be identified as necessary for Technology to have both positive and negative outcomes.

Deskilling is a process that presents adverse outcomes for employees, but it is necessary for the positive results of Technology to take place. The division of labor that improves outputs to managers simplifying tasks and withholding decision-making abilities from employees and the use of Technology in the workforce have all led to deskilling. However, deskilling is not a large scale phenomenon as it was during the industrial revolution. Technological advancement has become more popular, and machines have more benefits to humans such as upskilling and reskilling. Sometimes deskilling may occur and is necessary for what Technology requires in the new era is a change of skills; hence, even in the event of deskilling, it does not render the employee worthless. The contention that deskilling is a vital part of production can, therefore, be proven to be correct.


Braverman, H., 1974. Labor [labor] and Monopoly Capital. Monthly Review Press.

Brynjolfsson, E. and McAfee, A., 2014. The second machine age: Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies. WW Norton & Company.

Smith, A., 2010. The Wealth of Nations: An inquiry into the nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations. Harriman House Limited.

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