New York state is approaching 10 million jobs, a historic level rivaled only by the postwar boom. It has taken decades for this rebound to kick in, after globalization and offshoring displaced workers and mothballed factories from Buffalo to Binghamton. But in the years ahead, New York will have to confront an even greater and more far-reaching economic challenge: the coming wave of automation.
Almost every occupation in New York will be touched in some way by this technological shift. According to new research from the Center for an Urban Future’s Middle Class Jobs Project, more than 1.2 million jobs statewide — 12 percent of the workforce — could be largely automated using technology that exists today.
This doesn’t mean all of these jobs will disappear in a puff of smoke. In fact, there are only 24,740 positions statewide that are 100 percent automatable using current technology — jobs like packaging machine operators, meat packers and movie projectionists. What’s more, New York is likely to see thousands of jobs created as automation and artificial intelligence reshape the economy. But automation will change the nature of work in every corner of the state.
In both western and central New York, 16 percent of all jobs are highly automatable, meaning that 80 percent of their tasks could be done by machines. Communities from the Capital Region (13 percent) and Long Island (14 percent) to the Southern Tier (15 percent) are all home to large numbers of jobs that are highly vulnerable to automation.
It’s not too late to help New Yorkers get ready. Jobs are at risk of being eliminated or transformed because of previously unimaginable technological advances. Preparing New York for the challenges ahead will require solutions that are just as bold and innovative.
One step should be to establish a statewide student success fund, which would empower SUNY and CUNY to implement and expand programs that help ensure more students graduate with a credential. Today 57 percent of New Yorkers older than 25 lack a postsecondary credential; closing this gap will grow increasingly essential in a more automated economy. The state’s community colleges have a crucial role to play, but only 25 percent of the students who entered community colleges across the state in 2013 graduated in three years.
In addition, the state should expand upskilling programs that enable adults already in the workforce to develop new skills and earn industry-recognized credentials that will help them advance. This means making an investment in lifelong learning for all New Yorkers, whether it’s to help them keep the jobs they have as requirements change or access new opportunities that are poised to grow.
Companies implementing these new technologies also need to become part of the solution, especially in the classroom, where engagement on curriculum development can help to ensure that workers are learning the skills that employers need.
Although much of this work needs to happen at the state and local level, there’s plenty of opportunity for the federal government to act. New legislation proposed by U.S. Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would extend trade adjustment assistance to cover workers displaced by automation — an essential new support for workers in a more automated economy.
The coming wave of automation will impact work across New York, affecting assembly lines and office parks alike. But there’s still time to get ahead of the curve. By doubling down on a skills-building agenda today, state and local leaders can help prepare more New Yorkers for the changing world of work.
Read the full article in the Albany Times Union.