FOR THE WEEK OF FEB. 20, 2017
A big U.S. employment challenge comes from automation, not just foreign competition
Read about any business or industry and tell how you think technology plays a role.
Look for an example of a workplace where you would – or wouldn’t – want a job. Explain why.
Find coverage that mentions a career or training and tell whether that field or skills are of interest.
President Trump made U.S. factory job losses to China and Mexico a campaign issue and now pressures manufacturers to keep workers here and hire more rather than assembling goods elsewhere. He has raised the topic with Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler, as well as Carrier (which makes air conditioners and heating equipment). Economists and job trainers see a concern that's as important or even bigger: a potential loss of millions of American jobs over the next five to 15 years due to automation by artificial intelligence, 3-D manufacturing, advanced robotics and driverless vehicles — among other emerging technologies.
"This upheaval has the potential of being as disruptive for us now as the Industrial Revolution was for our ancestors," business Professor Ed Hess of the University of Virginia writes this month in The Washington Post, urging educators and government policymakers to "prepare for the coming technology tsunami and answer the tough economic questions of our time." One suggestion is federal research and development support to make industrial robots here. "An investment in robotics might make it easier for companies to build their factories in the United States rather than in China," suggests technology writer Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times. "It might well create new jobs in the United States.”
Trump criticizes U.S. companies for using factories in Mexico, China and other countries with lower manufacturing costs. But in contrast to his belief that "we don't make anything anymore," American manufacturing actually is flourishing – though with fewer people because machines now do so much of the work. More than 7 million factory jobs have disappeared since 1979, although production has risen dramatically. The United States ranks second behind China in factory output. And on a bright note, increased use of robots — combined with higher labor costs in China and other developing countries — reduces the incentive for U.S. firms to seek low-wage labor abroad.
Professor says: "This is not science fiction. . . . We need to master skills that technology cannot replace." -- Ed Hess, business administration professor at University of Virginia
Management consultant says: "When I hear that foreigners are taking all our jobs — the answer is, they're not." -- Harold Sirkin of Boston Consulting Group
Tech journalist says: "Trump can browbeat manufacturers into staying in America, [but] he can't force them to hire many people. Instead, companies will most likely invest in lots and lots of robots." -- Farhad Manjoo, The New York Times
Front Page Talking Points Archive
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