Efforts to upskill workforce underway

March 21st, 2019

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

The Indiana metro area that the Brookings Institution ranked as the nation’s third most vulnerable to job loss through automation and the adoption of artificial intelligence has a program in place to prepare its workforce for those changes.

The Elkhart metro area received that ranking based on the amount of recreational vehicle and other manufacturing that takes place there.

Horizon Education Alliance was formed in 2012, in the wake of the Great Recession, to coordinate efforts to increase the educational attainment levels of adult residents in Elkhart County.

The organization’s board includes all seven school superintendents in the county as well as representatives of the business community.

“I do not doubt there is a connection between more routine work and replacement of that work with the advances in technology that our world is experiencing,” said Brian Wiebe, HEA’s executive director.

“We are fortunate in this county to have strong manufacturing and some of it is more routine work, even as we do have a significant amount of advanced manufacturing as well, probably more than most people think.”

AI is expected to make robots much more useful and much less expensive in the not-too-distant future, and they have become commonplace in Elkhart plants.

“There are stats out there that say per capita we have the highest concentration of robotics anywhere in the country. Some of this transformation is already happening,” Wiebe said.

“What we’re excited about is the whole community is coming together, the K-12 system, the higher education partners, the industry partners, and finding new ways to collaborate,” he said.

Some of this is happening through sector partnerships where employers who typically compete with each other choose to work together to address the need for advancing education, Wiebe said.

“Because of the challenges in front of us, we are experiencing buy-in,” he said. “Our community recognizes it is important to think about what type of educational attainment or learning beyond high school is necessary.”

“It doesn’t need to be all PhDs, master’s or baccalaureate degrees, but we need to think about two-year degrees and credentials.”

During the past six years, local businesses, philanthropists and the Community Foundation of Elkhart County contributed $4.3 million for what last year became a $9.5 million package of training funds, including government program grants, to help upskill the workforce.

Out of 381 cities in the Brookings metro area ranking, Fort Wayne was listed as the 67th most vulnerable to job loss through automation and the adoption of artificial intelligence.

And it is benefiting from work the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership has had underway since 2012 to improve educational attainment.

Increasing post-secondary education and credential attainment to more than 60 percent of the region’s workforce is now among three major goals of its Vision 2030. The other goals are increasing the region’s population to 1 million residents and its per capita personal income to 90 percent of the national average.

“We do know we are shifting to a higher skill base, especially in manufacturing and across a number of our industries,” said Ryan Twiss, the partnership’s vice president of regional initiatives.

“We work with a lot of our employers who are working toward increasing their capability for automation,” he said. “It’s a very exciting time to be in our industry because employers are investing in their people at the same time they’re investing in capital, to be sure that they have the skills … to operate some of these higher tech machines.”

Because northeast Indiana is manufacturing and production heavy, with more than 84,000 employed in manufacturing, it is going to be particularly susceptible to advances in automation and artificial intelligence, said Rick Farrant, communications director for Northeast Indiana Works.

Transportation, which also was mentioned by Brookings as an occupation likely to see job displacement from automation and AI adoption, employs more than 15,000 in the region, he said.

The adoption of advanced technologies also will create jobs in new fields, which probably will come with higher compensation because they require higher skill levels, Farrant said.

Many of these new jobs will be created in farming and agribusiness, and because Indiana is an agricultural powerhouse, Northeast Indiana Works is in the process of developing an ag bioscience career pathway that will focus on high-skilled, high-wage agricultural occupations, he said.

Drone and autonomous vehicle technologies using information from global positioning system satellites for precision will create new jobs, as will advances in food, feed, agricultural engineering and data science and soil, plant and animal sciences, Farrant said.

“We’ll need people who can operate these systems and who can understand the data that is produced,” he said.

And as robots become more widely used in agriculture and other industries, Farrant said businesses will need people to operate, maintain and repair the robots.

Related Articles

Automation and Artificial Intelligence: How machines are affecting people and places from Brookings

Automation won’t bring an apocalypse—but that doesn’t mean it will be easy from Brookings