In what many are calling the fourth industrial revolution, the “rise of the robots” and other automated technologies will transform the entire economy, eliminating or substantially altering many jobs that exist today. At the same time, our demography is shifting rapidly: Our state’s population is aging, growing more racially and ethnically diverse, and reflects changing patterns of educational attainment and employment for women.
As these two megatrends collide – accelerating automation and shifting demography – North Carolina’s labor market and labor force will face significant disruptions.
The Institute for Emerging Issues recently released a report, the FutureWork Disruption Index for North Carolina, which reveals the scope of the challenge we face. On average, N.C. counties face the potential loss of more than 25 percent of their current jobs and nearly 20 percent of current wages to automation in coming decades. That’s about 1.2 million jobs and $37 billion in annual wages.
Counties facing the highest percentage of job losses are Watauga (41 percent); Carteret, Dare and Johnston (40 percent); and Buncombe and Catawba (39 percent). Our big metro areas fare better but are not immune. Moreover, although low-wage jobs are particularly at risk, automation is reaching up the jobs ladder to threaten more job categories and job skills. For example, by 2020, 43 percent of existing core skills in the Financial Services and Investors sector will be obsolete.
North Carolina is hardly alone in confronting the future work challenge. It is the No. 1 concern across the globe. But our state does not aim to just join the concerned. Our goal is to win the global battle for good future jobs.
What will that take?
Participants in the recent Emerging Issues Forum on FutureWork had high ambitions. They made clear that it’s time to pick up the pace to ensure that our institutions are accessible to our increasingly diverse population at all stages of the life-career journey and that they are flexible enough to continually respond to the massive technological changes that define the fourth industrial revolution.
The top three action items to prepare for FutureWork were:
▪ To develop a comprehensive plan to increase education system equity, so every person, irrespective of where they live in the state, is able to gain emerging skills and talents.
▪ To greatly expand the number of project-based learning opportunities available to help students better connect learning to real-world applications.
▪ And to turn the challenges of technology into an opportunity by launching a robust, statewide “Enhanced Career Pathways” public-private initiative that helps individuals connect their interests and skills to work opportunities over the course of their lifetimes.
We have considered these strategies within the context of five sectors important to North Carolina’s economy, and we’re already hard at work determining how to put them into motion in all eight North Carolina prosperity zones. Hundreds have already raised their hands pledging to work with key allies and stakeholders in each region to get new programming into motion.
Several national speakers remarked that they did not know of another state where stakeholders had come together across sectors to work on the urgent FutureWork challenge. It’s good that we have a head start, but that won’t last long.
Anita R. Brown-Graham is director of the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State.
For more on the FutureWork Forum and the Disruption Index for North Carolina, visit emergingissues.org.