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As automation and computers advance, new hires won't be able to keep up: retiree

Peter Bursztyn retired three weeks ago from his job preparing safety data sheets for checmicals. He had intended to pass on his work to someone younger, but he soon realized that computers were taking over the work he did and saw little point to training someone else.
Will jobs be obsolete as computers and robots enter the workplace? (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

During Cross Country Checkup's discussion on the changing world of work, many called in to share personal stories about how automation is transforming their fields.

One of those callers was Peter Bursztyn, from Barrie, Ont. Bursztyn, 75, retired three weeks ago from his job preparing safety data sheets for chemicals. He had intended to pass on his work to someone younger, but he soon realized that computers were taking over the work he did and saw little point to training someone else. 

Listen to his conversation with Checkup guest host Suhana Merharchand below: 

Peter Bursztyn retired three weeks ago from his job.. He had intended to pass on his work to someone younger, but he soon realized that computers were taking over the work he did and saw little point in hiring someone new. 5:20

Suhana Meharchand: We're talking about this changing work world and Artificial Intelligence. You know, robotics being implemented and the way offices are being utilized differently. What's your situation, Peter?

Peter Bursztyn: Well, first of all, I'm no longer impacted because I retired three weeks ago. I am 75-years-old, and I turned 75 the month that Canada turned 150 … it was a coincidence too good to miss. 

SM: Well, happy belated birthday. I do want to say, that people are working longer in this new world as well, while their jobs are changing. 

PB: Well, I was self-employed. I was a one-man band and I was earning a decent coin. I was netting somewhere between $45,000 and $60,000 a year, which is OK especially since I didn't have to spend any money to commute anywhere or buy fancy suits to wear to the office. 

I prepared safety data sheets. These are the information sheets that accompany a chemical when it's sold and tell the user what hazards are associated with it –– whether it is flammable, toxic, corrosive, what have you. 

SM: Crucial information.

PB: That's right, and highly specialized. I got the information from a number of different databases that I would assemble into a document that the guy in the forklift truck could read, which itself is a skill that is not common. 

Now, I had lost one client who decided to go to a company that prepared these things commercially. You know, a big company. And when I heard what price they were charging – they were basically charging the same thing I was charging –– I thought, "There's no way these guys are doing it by hand. They have to be doing it by computer."

I knew that some computer programs did exist to do the job that I had been doing because I've come across some clumsily written safety data sheets that I thought could only have been done by a machine [and] could not have been done by human.  

Anyway, I had started to try to get an apprentice to take over my business from me. In other words, somebody would work alongside me and I would pay them. Well, I decided I'm not going to do this anymore because I thought to myself that I can keep ahead of the computer because I'm good at my job, and I've been doing it for 28 years. But, a newbie wouldn't be able to do that. A newbie would be working all the hours God sends and still not be able to keep up with a computer that works 24 hours a day, seven days a week without rest. 

SM: So, did you give in to the computer by not training somebody else? 

PB: Well, I guess I did give in because I realized that I can't suggest to someone that they can make a decent living at it. 

The computers will get better. And eventually, they might do a good job. But I didn't think it was fair to subject somebody new to a hopeful future that might not materialize. 

Suhana Meharchand and Peter Bursztyn's conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. You can listen to their full conversation above. This online segment was prepared by Samantha Lui on September 4, 2017.

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