Automatable Job Growth Has Helped Locally

According to a new study, Western New York has the highest percentage of highly automatable jobs in the state, meaning that more than 105,000 jobs could have machines replacing the humans who currently work in these positions.

The Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit think tank, conducted a study to investigate how many positions are in future danger due to the rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning and the advancing field of robotics. Overall, they found that 1.2 million jobs in the state could be mostly automated with technology that already exists.

Western New York is the region with the highest automation potential, coming in at a staggering 44.5 percent for all jobs. This means that at least some part of the 667,530 positions in the region can be automated in the future.

Highly automatable jobs are defined as jobs in which at least 80 percent of the work can be done by machines. There are 105,220 highly automatable jobs in Western New York, which equates to 15.8 percent of jobs in the region being highly automatable.

A larger 38 percent of jobs are at least half automatable in the area, and 58.6 percent of jobs are at least 30 percent automatable.

The occupations that are the highest automatable include food preparation and service workers, stock clerks and order fillers, and bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks. Food preparation and service workers also happens to be one of the three largest occupations in the region.

One potential factor in Western New York’s level of automation is the high amount of jobs in manufacturing at 9.1 percent of the workforce or 60,570 people. Production jobs such as packaging and machine filling operators, machinists and welders are all considered highly automatable.

According to the study, roughly $10.9 billion in annual wages could be impacted by automation in western New York.

Manufacturing, food service and other jobs are not expected to all disappear, but rather the introduction of more automation is expected to cause these positions to change in some fashion at least.

With their findings, the Center for an Urban Future urges government officials, business leaders and educators to take measures now to prepare the workforce for these upcoming changes.

“A new wave of automation is coming down the pike, and it has the potential to transform tens of thousands of jobs across the state,” said Johnathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future.

Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello admitted there is a lot of automation out there, particularly in the manufacturing workforce in Chautauqua County, but Borrello also noted that humans are often running these machines and doing so to fill in the gaps leftover by human workers. There are many jobs available, and machines help to pick up the slack for those that are not yet filled.

“People have to automate to fill positions,” Borrello said.

Borrello continued to reiterate that automation is not necessarily a bad thing and that local businesses can thrive with automation. Those who use automation equipment, including CNC machines used to carve and shape materials, can provide more product at the end of a workday. Some businesses Borrello met with during his “100 businesses in 100 days” campaign said they would actually purchase more CNC machines if they had the skilled workforce to operate them.

“Had that automation not occurred, a lot of these companies would not have been able to survive,” Borrello said. “If you want to compete in this economy, automation is going to be a critical part of that.”

From furniture to parts for auto makers, an automated way of getting things done has spurred growth for Chautauqua County. Borrello noted that jobs are often changing more than they are flat-out disappearing.

“These machines will always need people who will program and operate them,” Borrello said.

Executive Borrello is more concerned with the incoming “silver tsunami” that will see many factory workers retiring in the same time frame in the next five to 10 years. The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation reports that the average age of a factory plant worker is 55.

Borrello suggested that the Center for an Urban Future report be taken with a grain of salt. He is more worried about how industry will be able to stay afloat with a smaller workforce in the future.

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