Governing magazine asks if automation anxiety is overhyped. It depends. Educated workers will fare better.

We’ve written about growing concerns that technologyrobots – will transform the workplace. A story in today’s Seattle Times looks at Amazon’s use of robots.

Governing magazine examines the issue, reporting that the trend and the job risk is real, but will play out differently across regions and industries. 

To estimate the potential effects of automation in those areas, Governing utilized definitions in a University of Oxford study assessing the automatability of individual occupations, then compared them with the Department of Labor’s most recent occupational employment estimates for the 100 largest U.S. metro areas. About 65 percent of Las Vegas area jobs were found to be susceptible to automation, the highest in any metro area. Much of that stems from the region’s large armies of servers, food preparers, cashiers and other occupations thought to be highly automatable.

Educated workers will do better as the economy transforms, though there are some interesting nuances.

Regions with higher education levels should fare better. But the Brookings Institution’s Mark Muro points out that there’s more to it than that. Physical jobs that are more complex or personalized — the kinds you won’t find on assembly lines — may actually be less vulnerable to automation than routine office jobs. “Often, lower-skill but physical, personal or direct-caring occupations seem quite durable,” Muro says. 

Middle-class, white-collar jobs, on the other hand, can be significantly liable to automation…

Metro Seattle shares characteristics with other cities where automation puts relatively fewer jobs at risk.

Large regions with jobs least susceptible to computerization, using the Oxford study’s definitions, are high-tech centers, such as San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., and Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C. Other metro areas with highly educated workforces such as Washington, D.C., and Boston similarly appear to have fewer jobs vulnerable to displacement. Regional economies relying heavily on education and health care may be less prone to automation because jobs requiring a high degree of human interaction are thought to be among the most resilient.

Governing reports that experts divide on the question of whether the net employment effect is positive or negative.

A 2014 Pew Research Center survey of experts found 48 percent agreeing that automation, robots and artificial intelligence will displace more jobs than they create by 2025.

There are, of course, policy implications.

While there aren’t yet many programs that specifically address automation, some states are engaged in activities that could help alleviate the impact of job losses. Apprenticeships are gaining a lot of attention and are expanding to health care, finance and other fields where they haven’t been common before. “The model is being modified and they’re really trying to ramp it up,” says Scott Sanders, executive director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.

For workers displaced by automation, community and technical colleges will play a crucial role in the pursuit of new careers.

In our 2017 foundation report update, we noted the growing importance of postsecondary education and training.

 

Increasingly, the majority of jobs in Washington will be filled by workers with a postsecondary credential (such as a technical or industry certificate, apprenticeship, or degree). Today, just 31 percent of Washington high school students go on to attain such a credential by the age of 26. The mismatch between workforce readiness and job openings hampers our collective ability to take advantage of the potential economic growth that lies ahead.

The rapid evolution of technology creates opportunities for the well-prepared. We’re optimists, believing that the net effect of automation will be positive. Making sure Washington students are prepared to take advantage of those opportunities remains a key priority for policymakers and business leaders.