How and where Americans work in the last two decades has been reshaped for a number of reasons, including events like the Great Recession as well as rapid introduction and distribution of new tools and technology. With the proliferation of intelligent machines on the horizon, millions of jobs could be phased out as new ones are created, but the outcomes of where and who this automation is going to affect will be vastly different. A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute entitled The future of work in America: People and places, today and tomorrow analyzes more than 3,000 US counties and 315 cities and finds a mixed bag when it comes to the local economies that will either sink or swim in the face of advanced automation.

Automating jobs away: The findings

-MGI has found that less than 5 percent of jobs can be automated completely

-60 percent of jobs have at least 30 percent of activities that can be automated

-There won’t be a total robot takeover, but rather a reorganization of duties and a new mix of jobs

-Some jobs could be reduced or be combined with other roles, while new jobs will be created

-All workers will be affected by this change

-Jobs that require more routine and physical tasks are ripe for automation

-More work will require socioemotional, creative, technological and higher cognitive skills

-Opportunities for higher wages will be available, but only to those who receive the necessary education and skills.

US cities in precarious positions

-Modest jobs gains could happen in the mixed middle cities, such as Albuquerque, NM and Dayton, OH

-Some cities could manage to accelerate growth, but some might slip into decline

-Cities with independent economies and educated workforces, such as Augusta, GA and Madison, WI, could become attractive regional outposts for corporations looking to relocate in lower-cost areas

-Cities characterized as America’s makers, such as Rockford, IL and Sioux City, IA, may see mixed results and will need a clear strategies to shift to advanced manufacturing and rebuild local supply chains.

The future of work and training

While there are many uncertainties in how increased automation will change work in the next decade, what is clear is that the current manufacturing workforce will have to attain more and different skills. With many manufacturers already having trouble finding workers with the right know-how, this problem is likely to worsen if no clear retraining program is put into place.

This shortage of skilled workers is exacerbated by the aging manufacturing workforce who are retiring in droves. While retooling traditional education systems will be needed in part to refocus efforts on teaching more math and digital skills, the private sector will likely have to play a big role in the retraining efforts.

As suggested by Ceridian’s recent whitepaper on building a next-gen workforce for Industry 4.0, a good place to start for manufacturers is to identify workers’ missing skills that could pose production risks. Some of these risks on the production floor are unplanned downtime and decreased reliability of equipment.

The idea of increasing apprenticeships has gained popularity when discussing manufacturing training programs, however, there are drawbacks to this approach. First is cost; McKinsey has estimated putting one million workers in apprentice programs could cost $40 billion annually. Secondly, apprenticeships are difficult to scale up because they are generally limited to one-on-one relationships.

However, computer-based simulation programs can offer scalability and affordability advantages to manufacturers. Additionally, this method of training is extremely flexible; for example, the Simutech Training System can be accessed from anywhere, anytime, enabling a more accommodating skills delivery method.

Plus, assessing what people already know and what they have learned from their training is another benefit computer-based simulation training programs, such as Simutech’s, can provide. Allowing managers and directors to quickly understand where their employees are at in their journey of developing skills can help everyone efficiently and effectively prepare the workforce for the future.


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