A Review of What the Fast-Food Industry’s Adoption of AI Means for Youth Entering The Workforce

Summary – Fast food chains are a classic provider of first-time jobs for youth.  This makes the trend of replacing these roles with artificial intelligence a great concern for economic development and social services professionals working with at-risk youth.

With the onslaught of issues, pre- and post- pandemic, It’s difficult for me to pinpoint the most important issue facing young people entering the workforce.  There are just so many barriers between youth and economic and professional success, I find it to be dizzying.

CNN’s article on February 26, 2021 “McDonald’s and other chains are giving their drive-thrus the Jetsons treatment” – https://apple.news/A-FCm-jkWTn6DVTxLUqkt1A talks about how McDonald’s and other drive-thrus are deploying new tech, instead of people, to speed up their ordering process.

This seemingly innocuous article about my favorite fast-food chain strikes many chords:

  • the expansion of artificial intelligence technology
  • the displacement of low-skilled workers
  • the decreasing availability of entry-level positions for young people
  • constant pushing for more and greater corporate profits
  • a continued need for advanced skill training
deconstructed face

Remember Your First Job? I Sure Do! What Will That Experience Look Like for Future Young People?

It has been well documented that the increasing use of artificial intelligence in business solutions is going to change the workplace forever.  If an artificial intelligence is taking my drive thru order, what will happen to those first-time jobs for young people?

It’s not all bad.  Technology itself is awesome.  This change will have many positive impacts and opportunities for new jobs and new job functions.  The introduction of AI will be a boon, or at least not a problem, for those individuals:

  • with high skill levels
  • innate adaptability
  • early exposure to these technologies
black teen looking at code

These folks will likely do extremely well.  But what about the others?  I’m left wondering  about the poor kids in schools and neighborhoods with limited personal and educational resources?  Will the saturation of advanced technologies in what have traditionally been low-tech and entry-level industries take away the few remaining opportunities that low-income and at-risk youth have counted on when entering the workforce?  I am greatly concerned about the impact that these great advances will have on current and future generations of this already disadvantaged segment of youth.

Lower-income youth may lose their introductory workforce opportunity and their path toward prosperity

My concern for the further disenfranchisement of those young people and others who are not afforded the opportunities to be trained in these technological fields, or those who use traditional entry level jobs as their on-ramp for a career, is a preventable worry that we all should share.  How many of us started our work career journey with an entry level position at McDonalds or similar place of work?  The need for lower-skilled workers will be ultimately reduced, as stated in the article:

illustration of teens in fast food worker outfit

Will fast food chains and other corporate giants invest in technology and invest in young adult workers?  Any possible equitable future of our economy depends on it.  We cannot just take for granted that corporations will make these investments on their own.  Especially when it would be counterintuitive to greater profits.

“Daron Acemoglu, an economist and professor at MIT, pointed out that as automation proceeds over time it reduces the need for low-skilled and moderately-skilled workers, who typically do not have college degrees. Ideally, he said, companies will use these workers for other tasks.”

Technological Advancement Itself Isn’t The Problem, But Including The Current Workforce In Industrial Plans For Innovation Can’t Be Optional.

We all applaud and use the advancements of technology, including me.  I tapped this commentary out on my MacBook, I posted it on the New Ways’ website and then I promoted it on multiple social media platforms using my iPhone.  Technological advancement isn’t the problem.  However, embracing industrial advancements without leaving behind the workers who depend on that industry is, and should be, a large concern for everyone.  When I say “everyone” I don’t just mean the corporations and the youth workers.  I mean everyone.

Robert Sainz

Robert Sainz

Robert M. Sainz was appointed President and Executive Director of New Ways effective January 2021. Throughout his 30-year public service career, he has addressed many difficult social problems facing our community’s low-income residents, including the challenges of juvenile delinquency, youth and adult unemployment and poverty.