Race against the machine


Remember the four key words I mentioned in the class—globalization, technology, sustainability and leadership?

This is a short but inspiring book to read about technology and its impact on us:

 “When talking about jobs and unemployment, there has been a great deal of attention paid to issues like weak demand, outsourcing and labor mobility, but relatively little attention given to technology’s role. This was a serious omission. “

“Computers are now doing many things that used to be the domain of people only…Our technologies are racing ahead but many of our skills and organizations are lagging behind”

“technological progress does not automatically benefit everyone in a society. In particular, incomes have become more uneven, as have employment opportunities.”

For TMD/TM majors & faculties, it is critical (although sometimes painful) to think about: How technology advancement will affect the job availability and nature of the job in the fashion apparel industry in the years to come? Do we have/are we learning the “right skills” that can help us survive in the race against the machine in the 21st century?

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

21 thoughts on “Race against the machine”

  1. Progressively over the yeas the apparel industry has been more and more dependent on tools to make the process easier and less timely. Clothing is all based on a size guide, now machines can make the clothes with only a few people needed to help contribute. As our technology gets more and more advanced people will slowly become more and more scarce in factories. Companies will spend tons of money on machines that will last a fairly long time and they wont need to pay employes since the machines will be doing all the work. In years to come people will only be needed for there ideas on new apparel designs and nothing else, because the manufacturing of clothing will be done by machines only. This takes away many jobs in the industry. Computers can even take away department store and boutiques because of how popular and convenient online shopping is. When stores shut down all the employees hired to keep the store running will be left without a job. I believe the skills needed to succeed is based around how well people are with technology, because it runs everything.

    1. personally I agree that it is just a matter of time to see machine eventually replace labor in manufacturing clothing. However, I am also sure new types of jobs will be created along with the technology. That’s why in today’s labor market, we see people without college education are really struggling and people with advanced degree are in more needs.

  2. At times, it scares me to think about how fast technology is advancing. Although it is a positive thing, as it makes daily tasks and life easier, I have mixed feelings about the impact it has on employment. I never really thought it would be possible for technology and machines to take the place of human labor. At the age of 22 I’m about to graduate college and I have begun my search for employment. As a TMD major, I am leaning towards the retail sector of the industry. At this time there are still employment options available. However, this post makes me wonder how long those jobs will last and when/if/how technology can eventually take over in the world of retail as well. Will computers some day be capable of all sectors of the retail world, eliminating the need for human labor? As Dr. Lu noted, I also think that as technology advances, new jobs will be formed. However, it still scares me, and makes me wonder what those new jobs will be and what types of skills will be needed. What will happen to graduates like me if technology becomes a super-power that trumps all human labor in the industry?

    1. Very true. So, you can never reply on those “knowlege” you’ve learnt in the unversity to secure a life-long job. What you takes away from your four-year study is your “ability”–the ability to be an independent learner, the ability to think, the ability to communicate, the ability to create new things. These “abilities” will keep your knowlege fresh and keep your future job too~ We need to be life-learners.

  3. Technology has been seen as great, but this article definitely shines a different, more negative light on it. I see how technology has taken over jobs daily. Even when you go grocery shopping they now have self check out. While self check out can be convenient because it’s faster, it is also eliminating jobs. In a few years from now will self checkout be the only option? Over winter break I had an internship with an interior designer in my town. She explained to me that business has gotten very slow over the years due to the internet. She told me that what interior designers had to offer could only be gotten through them and no where else, but since the internet has been created people are going online and finding decor for themselves. Ultimately, the internet gave people the tools to do their own interior decorating and they didn’t need to pay an interior designer to do it. Although we all love the internet, it does also have some consequences and unfortunately interior designers are suffering from that. The future of technology is limitless and who know’s what will be invented in a few years from now.

    1. very good example–kinda support the findings of my recent research which shows even the apparel industry in the US is getting more “capital intensive” than before. Unfortunately, this is the world you guys as graduates of TMD have to face; But you can also look at it in a positive way. For example, technology as a tool can save us time on doing low-end jobs. Instead, we now can have more time & resources to focus on tasks which generate higher added values. You create more values to the company, you are paid higher. Job qualitifcations do upgrade however. That’s why I always stress “critical thinking” in the class–the ability of which will benfit your whole career

  4. I completely agree with these statements. I always thought that the advancement of technology was a great thing because it opens our world to quick and easy programs. After hearing lectures in class, I realized I was wrong. I did not think about the affects technology has on the Textile and Apparel Industry. Technology has taken over hundred of jobs that use to be done by workers. The more complex technology gets, the more employment opportunities decline. I remember talking in class about how any person (educated or uneducated) can go onto the computer and start creating innovative designs.
    People go to school to get an education, but how is an education going to help when everything you studied is now being done on machines? I do understand that you need an education to go far in life, but once college is over, you will need to be re-educated on various programs. The fact that jobs are being taken over by machines because they are faster and (in the long run) cheaper is scary to think about. A lot of companies may go out of business because people wont need their services anymore if they have technology (ie. Designers and decorators). I am curious to see the changes that will happen within the next 10 years.

    1. great comment! So in my view, the purpose of going to college is not to learn “specific knowlege”, but rather to obtain various “abilties”–the ability to critically think, to innovate, to communicate and very important–to learn. So it is with the objective of TMD 433, I hope this class can provide you a “vision” and big landscape of the industry that can benefit your future career~

  5. I personally feel that technology is a bittersweet thing. While it is great to see that machines and computers have advanced to the point where they are able to do what humans can do, it is also scary, on the other hand, to think that one day computers will completely take over the jobs available in certain fields. I feel that in the future new, different jobs can be created for humans, but it will be much more difficult to get those jobs. Anyone who has a background in computers, whether it be from majoring in Engineering, Computer Science, etc., or even just from taking CAD classes, has an advantage in today’s job market, and the stakes will be even higher in the future. I like the idea that more and more college programs are incorporating computer software courses into their curricula, because that will benefit students in the future when they enter the real world and start their careers.

  6. Everyone loves technology. We love getting updated versions of our iPhones especially. But with technology we are going to be loosing more jobs and having an increase in unemployment. Technology is always around us. When we are in the grocery store there are now self-check out and scanners that you carry around with you to scan the barcodes to have a faster check out. When I was in Barcelona, there were wifi stands that would give you free wifi to surf the web. We are always on our phone checking updates or answering e-mails. Many businesses are slowing down due to the fact that people can use the Internet to order things or figure out what they need. Over the summer I had an internship at a magazine and not only did I have to help with the hard copy I also had to do work on the vision that was online. People rather use their tablets to read books and magazines instead or buying a hard copy of it. Technology and the Internet are taking over very slowly and pretty soon that is going to be the only thing we use.

  7. With technology on the rise, we must be careful that it does not overcome us. My generation has grown up with a wide variety of technology- we haven never known a life without telephones, television, computers, and the internet. I think that my generation and people younger than us have a distinct advantage over the older generations. Because we grew up with this technology, we learned to use it very quickly. My grandmother still wonders how HER facebook got on someone else’s computer when she’s signed in on there, while my 2 year old cousin knows exactly how to work an iPad and an iPhone. I definitely think that technology will continue to replace labor forces in manufacturing, but I do think that there are some jobs that cannot be done by machines and will always have to be done by humans. It is important that we continue to learn about the new technology so that we may find ways of keeping work for the humans. I think that through classes like CAD, we are learning the right skills to help us succeed. Additionally, technology such as digital printing still requires a certain amount of human operation. So while technology has taken some of the jobs, I do not believe it will eliminate the need for humans altogether.

    1. it is suggested by many studies that technology advancement will most negatively affect those low-end jobs. So basically I agree that technology won’t eliminate jobs but it definitely will change the type of jobs available in the market. Think about how we human being is different from machine? it is our judgement and the ability to think. This is something I hope college students can improve during the four-year study.

  8. Technology has played a major role in our lives today. The development of new technologies has help made doing our everyday task easy. However, when technology become a reason why unemployment rate increase then it becomes a problem. I believe human depend too much on machines to get the work done quickly. Technology advancement does affect the job availability and jobs in the fashion apparel industry. It is scary to know that after graduation my chances of finding a job is very low because I won’t have the skills that a machine have to get the job done. Now instead of competing with each other we will have to compete with machines. I believe we are learning the right skills that can help use survive the race against the machine in the 21st century. As that Dr. Lu said, new types of jobs will be created along with technology. Machines will always need human supervision. The skills that we learned while in college we can use it to do the job.

  9. It is a truly scary thought to think about what is in store for the United States Textile and Apparel Industry in the future. Technology seems to be increasing on a rate that human capacity cannot keep up. I am starting to get nervous that maybe a lot of what I am learning in school today will be irrelevant in five years in the job market. Nowadays, jobs that were dominated by the human hand are all now dominating by computers and technology. Who knows what other jobs could be taken away be technology in the next twenty years. The United States Textile and Apparel Industry also have another factor that comes into play and steals a lot of jobs. That factor is companies outsourcing jobs to different countries. With the rise of technology and the outsourcing of production, the jobs are increasingly diminishing. It is very scary to think about that when I graduate from college next year, I will have a lot of competition and the chances of me finding a job is very low.

  10. The world is changing so fast and our advances in technology seem unreal. Our country already has high unemployment rate and I don’t see it getting any better. Our jobs that we have today will be replaced with technology. Shopping online is becoming more and more popular and more convenient than going to the store. Pretty soon you won’t need to leave your house for anything or have to deal with other people. Our advances are happening too quickly for us to understand the effects.

  11. “Computers are now doing many things that used to be the domain of people only…Our technologies are racing ahead but many of our skills and organizations are lagging behind”

    This is scary, but very true.
    As a TMD student graduating in May it is scary to think about how fast technology is taking over “our” industry. New technologies are being perfected daily and the skills of the people in the industry are not so perfect. Like the quote mentions above, “skills are lagging behind as technology races ahead.”

    As consumers, we all want the newest technology and can’t wait for the newest tablet to come out. We do not always think about the impact it will have on our careers, salaries, and lifestyles.
    Luckily, I am starting my own business with my father this year and if it is successful I will not have to worry as much about my position in this industry; but, with that being said, advancements in technology will continue to affect millions of people around the world and we will all feel the effects at some point.

  12. After reading this article I realized that technology does a positive and negative affect on people. In this article it has more of a negative connotation that I happen to see. Technology is taking over some jobs that people used to have. I think that it is very scary to hear and read about, it is reality. Soon people are only going to be needed for designs and ideas for new clothing only like mentioned in comments above. I think that computers and technology and machinery are soon going to be used in place of people in factories and holding other jobs. They somewhat already are taking place of people’s jobs. Jobs are going to become scarce in a matter of time. With technology improving and changing so quickly, it will be easier for machines to hold these jobs that way like other students have mentioned, factory owners will be saving money by not paying other employees. This was sad to read about.

  13. I think that throughout the years, the apparel industry has been more and more dependent on technology and tools. This is because it makes it much easier and much less time consuming. Clothing is all based on specific sizes and now machines are able to make the clothes with less and less people needed to help. Technology is developing further so people become less needed in factories. Companies will spend a lot of money on machines that are built to last a long time and as a result, there is no need to pay employes. In the future, this will take away many jobs in the industry and fewer people will be needed. However this will also mean that it will truly help to have a college degree because it will aid you in being one of the few people to recieve these jobs.

  14. This brought up some very key questions that this industry will have to answer sooner than later. Technology is constantly being altered and new innovations and machines being produced. The way things seem to be going recently is looking into making items using 3D printing. This required no manual labor, meaning less jobs. 3D printing also requires the future of this industry to be educated in software such as CAD, in order to create the products to be printed. In some ways it is a “race” against machines, in terms of needing to quickly educate ourselves on how to work with these machines to be productive. Although it is not a race “against” machines, since we are purposefully producing them and trying to find ways to integrate them into the market.

  15. I think technology will always be an issue in the fashion industry. With the way clothes are made with different sizes, to even how they are sold. Online shopping has become such a big thing in recent years that soon it will be more than just convenient; it will eventually lead to less retail jobs needed. In some cases as far as manufacturing goes, machines are more efficient than human labor and that greatly affects unemployment. Technology will soon pass human knowledge and it won’t just be what we know that will get us jobs in the future.

  16. Technology is definitely a factor we are constantly attempting to catch up with. It all comes back to having that great accessibility. Today for instance I was part of the technology movement because I walked in to Stop & Shop and simply wanted two boxes of cereal that were on sale. I did not want to really interact with anyone because I was rushing and immediately proceeded to the self-checkout. Self-checkouts are one of the reasons why employment opportunities have decreased. As far as us in the TMD department learning the skills to survive the race against the machine, we are absolutely being taught well. We have specific courses like CAD which help us learn the technological ways in fashion.

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