Look for more political haggling over the fast food industry’s move to automation, which is likely to be at the front of a wider, economic-wide disruption.
An FKD Feature exclusive

The media and the general public are watching as McDonalds Goes High Tech. The fast-food corporation is rolling out giant i-pad looking touch screens where you can place your McOrder in major cities around the country. If Chicken McNuggets and french fries tickle your fancy, you’ll soon be typing your way to some salty fried fare. While Mickey Dee’s already has these in a few key urban areas, it will be installing these kiosks in all of its stores nationwide in the near future.

New CEO is a McDream

McDonald’s has been in the news a lot since its new CEO decided to make some pretty significant changes. Steve Easterbrook, who has only been at the helm for less than two years, introduced all-day breakfast, removed preservatives from nuggets, and made other changes aimed at addressing concerns about additives and farming practices.

Profits at McDonald’s have been healthy since Easterbrook took over: he’s cementing his reputation as a turnaround specialist given the pretty serious problems McDonald’s had before he took over.

Kiosk of job doom?

The kiosks, which are already super hot over in Europe and in America’s biggest cities, are now poised to take everyone else by storm. The way these kiosks look is pretty straightforward: You place your order, and then you plop down and wait for a McEmployee to bring you your McFood. It’s McEasy!

Make no mistake, the kiosks are a massive investment for franchisees. The CEO is staking his reputation on growing sales at each location following the installation of these fancy machines. If sales remain flat after this gargantuan investment, there’s going to be trouble in McParadise.

Of course, automation at the nation’s most famous fast food restaurant is causing a shitstorm of debate about the future of America’s millions of restaurant workers. There is widespread fear of worker replacement through automation, and many claim that labor union’s demands for higher wages are speeding up the transition toward robots replacing humans.

This is why Former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi wrote that the labor unions that fought for a $15 an hour got what they deserved, in a scathing Forbes article titled, “Thanks To ‘Fight For $15’ Minimum Wage, McDonald’s Unveils Job-Replacing Self-Service Kiosks Nationwide.”

From Forbes:

As the labor union-backed Fight for $15 begins yet another nationwide strike on November 29, I have a simple message for the protest organizers and the reporters covering them: I told you so.

It brings me no joy to write these words. The push for a $15 starter wage has negatively impacted the career prospects of employees who were just getting started in the workforce while extinguishing the businesses that employed them. I wish it were not so. But it’s important to document these consequences, lest policymakers elsewhere decide that the $15 movement is worth embracing.

However, current CEO Easterbook said that the kiosks aren’t going to replace human workers. In fact, he told the press that the company is looking to “invest in people.” Instead of being behind the register, McWorkers will be freed to roam the restaurant and improve customer service.

Takeaway

Automation is a fact of life in our modern era. Experts regularly warn us that mass unemployment as the result of technological advances appears to be a major threat to the fabric of our civilization.

Corporations and labor unions will continue to tussle over compensation and automation, but make no mistake, replacing humans with machines will be one of the most formidable challenges of our time.

The easiest way to insulate yourself is by making sure your technical and mental skills are 21st century ready. An education is often the easiest way to assure that you don’t lose your job to a machine.

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Posted 11.30.2016 - 04:24 pm EDT