Industry analyst Phil Ruthven said that 80% of the jobs 20 years from now have not been invented yet. Technology is fast replacing jobs in the furniture and wood products industry. New software and the digital revolution promises to replace even more jobs but is it going too far?

The technology revolution is fast replacing people in almost every job, even some doctors can be replaced. In the furniture industry it’s been happening for a while with CNC machinery replacing up to eight workers per machine. With the advent of software to not only design product but to manage the processes involved in making it, more jobs are lost. Of course it’s not all bad news as the industry struggles to compete with low-wage importers but is it going too far?

Millions of workers have already been permanently eliminated from the economic process – just check out your local bank or supermarket. In the wood and furniture industry, fewer apprentices than ever are starting as companies move towards automation. At the upcoming AWISA show you will see technology that can almost completely remove human intervention from the manufacturing process.

Global unemployment has reached its highest level since the great depression of the 1930s with more than 800 million persons now unemployed or underemployed. That figure will not improve as the world’s population increases. Corporate leaders tell us that rising unemployment figures represent “short-term adjustments to powerful market-driven forces pushing the global economy in a new direction” and promise an “exciting new world of high-tech automated production”.

These “adjustments” affect even developing nations that face technological unemployment as trans-national companies build state-of-the-art high-tech production facilities. Current surveys show that less than five percent of companies around the world have begun the transition to the new machine culture so massive unemployment of a kind never before experienced seems all but inevitable. In all three key employment sectors – agriculture, manufacturing, and services, machines are quickly replacing human labour and promise an economy of near automated production by the mid-decades of the twenty-first century.

From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, machines were used to increase production and reduce the amount of labour required to make a product. Some of the more dramatic breakthroughs in technology displacement occur in the automotive industry and a single car can now be built in eight hours. To see what technology will do to the furniture industry, just take a look at our automotive industry. Oh, you can’t: it’s already gone! Industry 4.0 is well and truly upon us and the end of jobs may be inevitable. Fortunately furniture is not like mass-produced tyres or iPhones and the variety and customisation of design may save us until intelligent robots are developed. It’s only a matter of time.
(This commentary was compiled by Supplier’s Technology Editor, Phil Ashley)