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The Impact On Jobs And Skills Required In An Increasingly Automated World

Automation will widen disparities across the U.S. in the next ten years—what should workers do to get ready for this disruption? Looking across geographies and education levels, how can employees prepare for the employment market of the future?

Just 25 cities in the U.S. could capture over 60% of American job growth by 2030, while rural areas and other cities could see flat or declining employment. The future of work in America: People and places, today and tomorrow reveals the growth of opportunities in healthcare, STEM, and for business services professionals, while over 50% of positions lost will be in just four occupations: over 8 million office support jobs, over 5 million food service jobs, nearly 5 million production work jobs, and 4 million customer service jobs.

Less-educated workers—which describes many of the workers relying on shop-floor manufacturing work —are most at risk of being impacted by automation: individuals whose level of education does not exceed a high school diploma, are four times as likely to be in a highly automatable role, while more and more roles in manufacturing will require a higher level of education. Minorities are at most risk, with nearly 12 million Hispanic and African-American workers facing potential workforce displacement. For workers in these groups who successfully make the transition to a new occupation, there will be a need for them to undergo significant reskilling.

But, it is not all doom-and-gloom in manufacturing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of manufacturing employees in the US (~13 million people) has scarcely changed since 1949, some 70 years ago. However, while the numbers remain stable, the nature of employment in the manufacturing sector has changed dramatically, with contemporary employees now replacing rote and repetitive work, with interaction with technology and requirements for critical thinking. During this same 70-year time span, overall output per manufacturing employee has increased to four times higher than it was—a significant improvement and a very positive statistic for those engaged in the sector.

And, although automation in manufacturing is expected to widen disparities between leading-edge factories and the rest of the pack, the leaders are guiding the way to show how factories of the future will include both people and technology—not one or the other. Recent research from the World Economic Forum identified 26 industrial lighthouses that are leading the way in their adoption of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies. The unexpected finding? Training, upskilling, and infusing critical thinking skills into the shop floor helps the leaders stand out. For example, factories such as Fast Radius with UPS in the U.S., Tata Steel in the Netherlands, and Haier in China, have integrated data, analytics, digital, and automation, to create significantly more effective manufacturing factories of the future. Tata Steel, for instance, has transformed by creating a tailored Advanced Analytics Academy to train over 200 people, including senior managers, to think differently about applied analytics.

To prepare for the jobs of the future, workers must play a key role in continuing their professional development throughout their careers. Adaptability will be critical, along with a lifelong learning aspiration, self-direction, and comfort with change and uncertainty. Workers who take charge of their career and think through how to adapt to the evolving times will do best. Socio-emotional skills such as creativity, critical thinking, communication, influence, will also be increasingly important, as well as the ability to both use and create technology.

To tackle the full extent of this change and emerge with a strong and competitive workforce will require businesses, policymakers, and educators to work together to tackle key societal challenges. Solutions will need to be tailored to different communities and needs, and the education system must become more attuned to the skills we will need in the future. Organizations must also plan on a long-term basis, managing workforce transitions, and understanding where reskilling will add more value than new hires: Amazon recently announced a significant reskilling effort, and Walmart, AT&T, SAP, and JP Morgan Chase have all invested hundreds of millions of dollars in reskilling employees over the last few years. They help match current employees to similar skillset jobs, invest deeply in employee learning, and build employee skills for future work through education support.

Up to 1 in 4 workers will need to change occupations due to the impact of automation, but people working in manufacturing will be well-positioned to stay within the sector in the US if they are willing to proactively build skill sets and adapt to the changing requirements of the sector.

Read More: Forbes