Do you work in retail sales or food and beverage service?
Bad news. Those are the jobs most likely to be automated in the Phoenix area in the near future, according to one automation expert.
The projection comes from Senior Fellow Megan Garcia at the New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank focused on adapting society to technology.
Her organization studied the jobs nationwide most likely to be eliminated through automation. They are telemarketers, accountants, retail workers, real estate professionals and typists, she said.
The list for Phoenix was based on the large percentage of retail and food-service jobs in the metro area, which explains why manufacturing jobs were not on the Phoenix list. Relatively few manufacturing jobs exist in the region to be lost to automation.
Garcia and others spoke during a panel discussion Tuesday at the Arizona State University Morrison Institute for Public Policy, where officials contemplated what will happen to the economy as autonomous vehicles take over for truck drivers, self-service kiosks take food orders at restaurants such as Panera and machines cook the meals at fast-food restaurants.
While future changes in the job market are simply guesses and impossible to know, panelists said it’s clear that the pace of automation is accelerating.
While the job losses are projected to be concentrated in specific geographic areas, the jobs created because of technology will not necessarily be in the communities hit by the losses, said Luke Tate, an assistant vice president and executive director of ASU Opportunity Initiatives.
Tate said projections show that in metro Phoenix the West Valley likely will have the biggest losses of jobs through automation, while cities such as Chandler in the East Valley will see the biggest job gains in the tech sector.
Of course, some jobs are unlikely to be eliminated, Garcia said.
“It is very, very unlikely a kindergarten teacher will be automated anytime soon,” she said.
Tate said several times throughout history technology has eliminated jobs, through agricultural advances, the advent of the steam engine, electric power and computing.
“In each case, we saw massive disruption to the economy but also massive improvements in the quality of life,” Tate said.
While automation is affecting all jobs, it is not necessarily eliminating all jobs, said Jaime Casap, an educational evangelist for Google.
He gave the example of bank tellers, who process far fewer transactions for customers today because of the availability of ATMs.
“(Tellers) are providing a higher level of service,” Casap said.
Another looming example is the self-check-out lanes at grocers.
“Does that mean cashier jobs are going away? Yes,” he said. “But there are still people working at the supermarket.”
He said grocery employees could add value by offering cooking or nutritional advice, rather than by handling the repetitive task of checking out customers.
“Information is affecting all of our jobs,” Casap said. “Automation is not something that is new. It has been happening since the first farmer used a machine. The difference is it is happening much faster than it used to.”
He said children today learn differently than their parents because of the availability of information and they need to be educated accordingly.
Asking children what they want to be when they are grown up is a “stupid question,” he said.
“Ask them what problem do you want to solve,” he said. “And what do you need to learn to solve that problem.”
Most children today have had Internet connections available to them their entire life, and they perceive the world differently than those who watched the technology develop over time, he said.
Addressing the community leaders in the audience, Tate said that while traditional education is important, policymakers also should focus on how to prepare middle-aged workers to “re-attach” to the workforce if and when their jobs are automated.
Diana Bowman, an associate professor at the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law, said some of the ideas governments are considering to address jobs lost to automation are controversial.
“There are a number of tools governments are looking at to address technical unemployment,” she said.
One would be “universal income” that governments simply pay people, much like a monthly Social Security check.
Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX, has advocated for such policies in the future when he anticipates many jobs will be automated, threatening the traditional economy.
“It’s very controversial,” Bowman said.
Another idea would be to tax automation. The European Parliament considered but did not pass a so-called “robot tax” earlier this year.
Taxing automation would slow its deployment, and the money could be used to retrain workers to ensure they remain employed once new systems are put in place, Bowman said.
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