Occupational change is coming, so be willing to learn new tasks
By Doug LeDuc | KPC News
Automation is increasing the importance of classes that prepare us for training beyond high school because the accelerating pace of technological change will require much of today’s workforce to reinvent itself.
Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, estimates half of today’s workforce makes a living at a job that eventually will be eliminated through automation.
CBER and the Rural Policy Institute’s Center for State Policy at Ball State released findings early this summer comparing concentrations of highly automatable occupations within the nation’s more than 3,000 counties.
LaGrange was the only northeast Indiana county on a list of the top 25 with the highest concentrations of workers facing the greatest automation risk. But the future impact of automation at the personal and at the macro economic level is something “everybody ought to be thinking about,” Hicks said.
“Virtually every occupation is going to have some risk,” he said. “It’s something even kids have to think about in middle school and high school. You’re probably going to have four or five different careers, so you’d better have a good sense of what those jobs may require, like algebra.”
Students must resist the temptation to focus on subjects they enjoy at the expense of subjects they find less appealing, because a well-rounded education will improve their flexibility when it comes to acquiring skills they never thought they would need for a career adjustment they never thought they would have to make, Hicks said.
“The vast majority of students in Ivy Tech right now are spending a big chunk of time revisiting things they learned in middle school,” he said. “Professors around the country are finding some of the biggest problems are students are struggling at a fundamental level with middle school concepts they didn’t get and high schools didn’t demand of them.”
In addition to the math skills students pick up in classes such as algebra and geometry, some of the approaches to problem solving they learn in those classes can be applied to other disciplines, he said.
The technology that makes workers more productive in the future will require them to learn new tasks and transform the nature of many of the tasks they now perform, Hicks said.
“K-12 is where we learn to be flexible and learn to learn new tasks,” he said.”I don’t think it’s a workforce development issue. It’s an eighth-grade issue. Some communities are terribly vulnerable to it and end up risking decline or stagnation by not doing things that are effective at making their populations more ready for change.
“How good are your schools and how disciplined are your communities at making schools good at preparing kids for the future?”
About 10 percent of occupations with the smallest risk of automation make about $80,000 a year. Occupations with the highest risk of automation loss make $36,000, Hicks said.
Many of the occupations considered the least likely to be eliminated through automation are found within the health care industry. Examples of some of the positions most likely to disappear through automation in coming years include telemarketers, hand sewers, tax preparers and data entry keyers.
“Knowing these things are coming, it helps us do a better job maybe of predicting what sorts of educational attainment may be needed, and what types of additional skill sets — that may not be part of the traditional education — might be needed,” Hicks said.
Occupations can be eliminated or transformed by technology almost immediately and the more competitive a company is the more likely it will be to adopt technology to improve productivity, he said.
Efforts to slow the pace of this kind of change have seen little success, historically, Hicks said. There never is a national consensus to slow the productivity improvements that accompany automation, even when there is a very strong local consensus, he said.
“Choosing a career is no longer something we can or should do without considerable research and thought about the future of an industry or occupation,” said Rick Farrant, communications director for Northeast Indiana Works.
“In the case of automation, employers can likely provide answers about expected advances in technology. It is worth noting that, even with the advent of automation, people are still going to be needed to design, install, run and maintain the robots.”
He offered welding as a field where robots can’t do all the work — at least not yet. There are certain kinds of welds that are still best performed by human hands.
Scanning the workforce landscape to determine where future employer needs are heading, and seeking out training and education opportunities to prepare for occupations where strong hiring increases are projected in growing industries is a good career development strategy, Farrant said.
“The state and our region are increasingly focusing resources on helping prepare people for in-demand occupations and, for those who are eligible, the training may be free,” he said.
Information about in-demand occupations and training opportunities is available by visiting one of the region’s 11 WorkOne Northeast career centers.