There Goes Somebody’s First Job

Popular Science has an interesting article about the development of a robot in Germany that grills sausages and apparently does a pretty good job of it.  So what, you say?  Here’s what:  the German robot shows just how easy it is for robotics to eliminate jobs.  And, since robotics mostly focuses on performing basic, ministerial tasks, the jobs that are eliminated tend to be entry-level jobs — the kinds of jobs that many of us had as our first jobs, back when we were teenagers.  Whether it is grilling sausages, flipping burgers, washing dishes, or bagging groceries (which was my first job), we’re likely to see increasing robotic inroads, which means fewer jobs for kids trying to earn some spare money so they can take their significant other on a date or go to the prom.

If you’re the owner of a sausage restaurant, why wouldn’t you use a robot instead of a teenage kid?  The robot in the Popular Science article has a natty moustache and is wearing a chef’s hat, apparently issues some German witticisms as he grills, and will never, ever complain about working conditions or fail to show up for work on time.  You wouldn’t have to pay for health care, perform withholding, or worry about unionization.  And, since we all remember the personality issues that inevitably afflict the teenager years, you wouldn’t have to deal with sullen, hormone-addled employees, either.

When robots take over those “first jobs” that many of us had, I think it will have a profound impact.  I thought getting that first job was an important step on the road to adulthood, where I jarringly realized that not everybody is going to treat me with kid gloves like my parents did.  If teenagers can’t get a first job, how are they going to get a sense of the working world, and how are they going to stay out of trouble?

Learning From Those First Jobs

Most of us remember our first jobs. Whether it was working at a pizza joint or a grocery store, a lifeguard station or a clothing outlet, flipping burgers or mopping floors or stocking shelves, there were many common experiences.

We remember our parents encouraging us to find work for the summer.  We remember applying for positions and getting hired.  We remember our bosses and co-workers, and getting our first paychecks, and how good it felt to have some extra money in our pockets.

Along the way, we learned some valuable lessons.  We learned that being on time was important, unless you wanted the manager to chew you out.  We learned that, whatever our parents said, the world didn’t revolve around us, and our bosses and co-workers didn’t think we were anything special.  We learned to listen, take instruction, bite our tongues now and then, and do the work as we were told.  We learned what makes a good boss and what makes a bad boss, and that lazy co-workers who always wanted you to cover for them were a pain in the posterior, that our co-workers who didn’t live in our neighborhood or go to our schools were nice people, and that a kind word from an appreciative customer could be a beautiful thing.

All of these are reasons why I fear that our never-ending recession will have lasting consequences — for there are many teenagers and young adults who have been unable to land that first job and learn those valuable life lessons that have served the rest of us so well.  Instead of working at those first jobs, they’ve been sitting at home, listening to their parents tell them how great they are and that it isn’t their fault that no jobs are available.  When they finally do get that first job — whenever that might be — how well equipped will they be to succeed, without those memorable first job experiences to fall back on?