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STUDY: Automation, Artificial Intelligence Pose Risks to Area Workers (Subscriber Content)

By John Seelmeyer
Inside the Tesla Gigafactory. Image: Bob Conrad.

By John Seelmeyer Automation and artificial intelligence pose a high risk to the jobs of more than a quarter of the workers in the Reno-Sparks area in the next decade, according to a new study from the Brookings Institution. That translates into more than 60,000 jobs that could be disrupted by currently available technologies — not counting further disruptio…

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Tee Iseminger January 30, 2019 - 8:42 am

I have a few thoughts about this. Yes, Nevada’s high concentration of gaming and hospitality workers puts the state at high risk for losing jobs to automation and other advancements in technology. The Culinary Union Local 226 in Las Vegas spent much of 2018 fighting for and winning unprecedented contracts with resort properties on the The Strip that include protections from automation, like retraining and up-skilling, and a seat at the table when new technologies are being considered for adoption. Local Culinary Union leaders here in Northern Nevada are in negotiations now for a similar contract with Circus Circus Hotel and Casino (owned by Eldorado Resorts) for the same considerations, after the resort lost its bid to decertify the union there. Properties with non-unionized workers will have a tougher time warding off technology takeover.

But it’s not just hospitality—Nevada’s heavy investment in massive manufacturing facilities that employ thousand of workers in repetitive, single-station jobs contributes to that risk. The creation of those jobs played a big role in lifting our state economy out of recession, but in the end most of those may be temporary jobs. The qualities that make them quick and easy to train for also make them vulnerable to replacement with tech.

In general, the more skilled the labor and geographically-varied the worksites, the more protected the job. The construction industry has certainly become more high-tech and will continue to do so—jobs that were considered mostly manual labor even a decade ago are looking a lot more like engineering today—yet construction is still considered to be one of the industries least at risk for automation. Too many variables and situation-specific issues make it a poor candidate for job-bots (who really like predictability!), and things like mobility and manual dexterity are still the prime domain of humans, and the construction industry relies heavily on both of those. So it’s good news for Nevada that construction and development are one of the most robust sectors of our economy.

As for transportation—there are efforts in play now to allow unmanned freight trains to pass through Nevada, which not only threatens jobs but raises big safety questions, and those are efforts are now being challenged by SMART (the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers) with a bill that would require two engineers on every freight train.

My advice for anyone concerned about their own job security in the face of automation: fight for a seat at the table in your workplace during discussions about automation technologies, encourage your employers to consider re-training and up-skilling programs, and take an active role in state government by talking to your elected officials about jobs and workforce development. Nevada’s future depends on its workers having a voice in these issues.

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