Candidates, Are You Listening? It’s Time to Start Talking about a Skilled Workforce

Work - Council on Competitiveness“(Skills) are the name of the game, and those who invest in education and skills development are more competitive in the workforce, earn more, have lower risk of unemployment and propel the next generation of prosperity.” – Work: Thriving in a Turbulent, Technological and Transformed Global Economy, from the Council on Competitiveness

So just how likely is it that some form of automation – computers, robots, etc. – is going to make your job obsolete?

I looked into this for myself, and it seems I’m among the lucky ones. “Public relations specialists” have just a 17.5% chance of being automated, according to data from a University of Oxford study. I also have a part-time gig as a group fitness instructor, where the odds are even more in my favor – just an 8.5% chance of being automated.

But let’s illustrate the rapidly changing workforce landscape using the example of my job at the gym. While it’s not likely that I, the class leader, will be replaced by RoboInstructor 2000 anytime soon, the people taking my class are a different story. They might include a loan officer (98.4%), an accountant (93.5%), a technical writer (88.8%), or a paralegal (94.5%). All of those jobs as we currently know them have a high chance of being automated.

Their lack of employment means they aren’t going to belong to the gym anymore. Chances are they won’t be buying cars or houses. Not to mention, they won’t be paying taxes either.

Analysis from the U.S. Department of Labor came out with a scary estimate: In the next 10-20 years, 47 percent of U.S. employment is at risk of becoming automated. Let that sink in for a second. Half of the jobs in America, as we know them now – done by machines. (If you want to see if your job falls under the “high risk” category, there are handy interactive graphics here and here.)

It’s not a hopeless situation. For one, the current data analysis can’t predict future breakthroughs. It’s entirely possible that new industries are going to emerge that will require human capital, but we don’t yet know of their existence. For another, while machines are quite good at routine, repetitive tasks and pattern recognition, they are fairly useless for making decisions and “soft skills” like critical thinking and complex communications.

To boil it down, this means that American workers who are currently employed in low-skill, repetitive task jobs need upskilling, and they need it fast. But it isn’t just what necessarily would be considered “low skill” jobs – see the above examples of loan officers, paralegals, etc. Even the neighborhood barber is at risk, with a 79.7% chance that work will be automated.

But just because your own personal career is relatively immune, it doesn’t mean that you are safe from the consequences of this shifting work landscape. It’s important to the future of our entire economy. It’s vital that we have programs and training in place to address this important issue.

Primary season is in full swing, but while most presidential candidates have given vague talking points about how they would “improve the economy,” none have offered any concrete plans for building a better workforce.

The Council on Competitiveness recently released a report titled “Work: Thriving in a Turbulent, Technological and Transformed Global Economy.” The report calls for a National Skills Agenda that would “build foundations for success in a high-skill and knowledge- and technology-driven economy.” It calls for transformation and expanded access to systems that help workers acquire new skills, and for energizing the next generation of entrepreneurs while making veterans and mature workers more competitive in the workplace.

The time to address this issue is now. So we ask of you, future Mr. or Mrs. President – the majority of the voters who are headed to the polls this November are also part of America’s workforce. What’s your plan for ensuring America’s future economic security – and that of those same voters – in what is soon going to be a very different world?

Categories: Smartforce

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