The world of work is changing dramatically. With the rise of automation, decreasing demand for labor, and demographic shifts, North Carolina’s workforce is going to have to adapt to survive.
To bring this challenge into focus, N.C. State’s Institute for Emerging Issues recently hosted its annual Emerging Issues Forum focused on “FutureWork.”
According to data released at the forum, as many as 1.2 million jobs across our state will be made redundant by automation and technical advances in the coming decades.
Today, close to 100,000 manual labor jobs in our state are highly vulnerable to automation. Currently, 95 percent of our high-tech jobs are in only 22 of our state’s 100 counties.
In a 2013 study by Oxford University, researchers forecasted that machines might be able to perform half of all U.S. jobs in the next two decades. The most common jobs in our country – retail sales, cashiers, food and beverage servers, and office clerks – are the most susceptible to automation and comprise more than 10 percent of our workforce.
These trends are only going to accelerate and affect every segment of our population. The share of Americans in their prime working years (25-54) who are actually working has been trending down since 2000. The number of recent college grads who are under-employed (in jobs not requiring a degree) is higher than it was in 2000, and real wages have fallen 7.7 percent in that same time.
“In the biggest picture,” Derek Thompson wrote in A World Without Work, “the job market appears to be requiring more and more preparation for a lower and lower starting wage.”
This puts even more pressure on people without degrees or relevant training. In North Carolina, less than 20 percent of our residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
So what do we do about it?
As part of the Emerging Issues Forum, a group of workforce experts across higher education, industry, and government developed a set of strategic responses to these challenges.
In North Carolina, less than 20 percent of our residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The recommendations primarily focus on increasing the connection points, communication, and collaboration between our education institutions and employers. This includes enhancing career pathways for students and supporting a student’s personal and professional development through to full employment based on his or hers interests and skills.
This will require more differentiated programs for workforce readiness in which employers identify needed skills and education partners stay nimble enough to create customized workforce training to directly fill these needs (vs. general programs for larger groups). Employers and educators also need to partner to provide more project-based learning opportunities (like apprenticeships) that teach real-world skills. And we need to cultivate the entrepreneurial mindset in our emerging generations – equipping them with the confidence and competence to navigate the ever-changing workplace and develop new opportunities for themselves as innovators, entrepreneurs, and creators.
Also fundamental: increasing education system equity that supports the development of a fully representative (race, gender, age) workforce that possesses the skills necessary to compete in our global economy. To get there, we will need to invest in access to quality education and address our persistent achievement gap.
Communities will also have to adapt and develop creative strategies for harnessing the local workforce including fostering entrepreneurship, developing community “maker-spaces”, and determining unique economic drivers that will lead to brain gain versus brain drain.
The future of work is upon us. Are we ready?
About the authors
Christopher Gergen is CEO of Forward Impact, a fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Duke University, and author of “Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives.” Stephen Martin is deputy chief of staff at the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro. They can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter through @cgergen.