Not all researchers agree that artificial intelligence is as an important of a development as electricity or fire, or that hundreds of millions of jobs will be automated in the next decade. But, it is clear that an increasing array of skills will soon be completed by machines. And workers need to be prepared for a future where they may have to develop a larger skillset than ever before.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a tech-friendly think thank, published a report today detailing how worker training policies will need to be adjusted in the age of A.I. and robotics. ITIF gives a vast number of policy recommendations in the report, most of which will likely not come to fruition. But the report does offer a useful overview of what shortfalls exist in current training and retraining programs.
“Many especially older dislocated workers haven’t been in a classroom since they were 18 and may be leery of going back to school,” Maria Heidkamp, the director of the New Start Career Network at Rutger University’s Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, told VentureBeat in response to an inquiry about what some of the biggest barriers are that workers face when searching for job retraining programs. “Many are not sure what training might offer a good return on investment for them, and it can be difficult to find unbiased career advice.”
It’s worth nothing that TIF, which has received funding from tech lobbying groups such as the Wireless Association and the Information Technology Industry Council, has a rosier view than other organizations on how technology will impact the workforce. A previous study conducted by ITIF estimates that only 8 percent of jobs will be at high risk of automation by 2024.
ITIF president Rob Atkinson, who authored the report, claims that automation will allow recent college graduates who are overqualified for the jobs that they are currently in to move up in the job ladder. Atkinson also rejects the idea that automation will worsen income inequality.
The thinking is that as lower-wage jobs are automated, companies will pass those savings onto consumers by lowering the prices of goods and services. Spending will increase, and thus will create more higher-wage, high-skilled jobs.
Nonetheless, the ITIF acknowledges that workers will “lose their jobs through no fault of their own, including from technology,” and the U.S. needs to do a better job of investing in programs that will help these workers. The U.S. invests just 0.1 percent of its GDP in workforce training and support programs.
The policy recommendations fall into one of four different categories: policies that will ensure full employment, nationally and regionally; ensure workers have needed competencies before they are laid off; reduce financial hardships for laid-off workers; and provide better transition assistance to help laid-off workers find new employment.
In order to support regional economic development, ITIF suggests creating “regional growth poles,” a solution that will likely pique the curiosity of state and city governments across the U.S.
According to Atkinson, each governor would identify two to six potential growth pole communities in these states. He told VentureBeat in an email that a growth pole community would be “150,000 to 400,000 in population; not adjacent to a larger metro; and ideally having a good university. Lafayette Indiana; Eugene, Oregon; Sante Fe, NM; etc. would be examples.”
Congress would then increase funding for the Economic Development Administration, and 75 percent of those funds would go towards growth pole communities. The idea is that this would be a better use of federal money, which Atkinson said currently goes to too many places that “have very little prospects of an economic turnaround.”
However, the use of federal money alone won’t lead to an uptick in the number of businesses and jobs. Atkinson acknowledged that incentives will likely be needed for the private sector to convince businesses that are currently in overcrowded tech hubs like Silicon Valley and Boston to invest in growth poles.
Among the other policy solutions that ITIF touts include increased investment in apprenticeship programs, the creation of new kinds of technical colleges, and establishing portable training accounts that employees and employers can add money to in a similar manner as a 401(K). A good portion of the proposals ITIF suggests would require businesses to pay more taxes — which is not something the private sector is likely to jump at.
The ITIF does come out against universal basic income, claiming that it will encourage workers to stay out of the job market (though a recently released working paper on the Alaska’s universal-basic-income-like Permanent Fund found that the workforce participation rate did not change after the fund was instituted).
What the ITIF report doesn’t address is which policy solutions are among the ones that need to be implemented most urgently. Atkinson points to ITIF’s proposal to turn the U.S.’ Trade Adjustment Assistance program, launched in the 1960s, into a Trade, Technology, and Policy Adjustment Assistance Act.
Heidkamp, who hadn’t reviewed the ITIF’s report, said that the Heldrich center is currently studying the effectiveness of work-based learning programs, like apprenticeships and on-the-job training programs — in order to make it easier for workers to have the skills they need when they may have to find another job.