Resistance is futile
Technologies are changing so fast that nearly half of all jobs in the Portland area could be eliminated in the foreseeable future. But some local educators and companies are embracing the trends and encourage everyone else to do the same.
"Resistance is futile," says John Tapogna, president of ECONorthwest, a Portland-based economic consulting firm that recently completed a report titled "Automation and the Future of Work" for the Value of Jobs Coalition. He presented the findings as part of a panel discussion last Wednesday hosted by the Portland Business Alliance, one of the coalition's partners.
"Automation is one of the few trends that will affect everyone in this room and community, like climate change and the aging population," Tapogna told the PBA members on Jan. 17 at the downtown Sentinel Hotel. "We know that disruption is coming and it's going to affect every occupation."
The report, which was released last November, is the first study to look at the potential effects of such trends as robotics and artificial intelligence on a state. Among other things, it found that that lower-paying jobs requiring less education and fewer skills are most at risk of being eliminated. They potentially include over half of all jobs in the state, and 49.1 percent of all jobs in the Portland region.
Even many high-skill jobs are at risk — including 12 percent of higher skill health care practitioner and support jobs — the report says.
Tapogna said that technological changes have historically been beneficial, increasing longevity and producing higher standards of living. But Tapogna also said that changes are happening so fast now — including advances in robotics and artificial intelligence — that policymakers do not have enough time to fully understand and plan for them.
"In the 1960s, only 5 percent of prime working age males were unemployed. Today it's more like 15 percent and it could hit 25 percent by 2050 unless something is done about it," said Tapogna.
Portland Public Schools and Concordia University have launched one of the few initiatives to actively prepare students for such changes, said Shawn Daley, the university's executive vice president for innovation and business development. Daley explained the 3 to PhD (Pursuing Higher Dreams) initiative is based in PPS' recently remodeled K-8 Faubion School adjacent to the university's Northeast Portland campus.
Students there are enrolled in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) classes, including learning about robotics at a young age. The final partner is Trillium Family Services.
"Our communities can prepare for these changes. I'm a techno optimist, but we have to invest in education," said Daley.
The other two panelists are employed by companies that are developing such advanced technologies.
Suman Narayanan is the engineering manager for the advanced driver assistance and safety program at Daimler Trucks North American in North Portland. The program has already developed the Detroit Assured safety system for the company's newest trucks that use radar, sensors and cameras to help keep them in their lanes and mitigate collisions. It has grown from five to 15 employees in just two years.
"These trucks are involved in fewer accidents and the accidents are less serious. Anything we can do to reduce truck-related fatalities and injuries is worth it," said Narayanan, who explained Detroit refers to the brand of engines and transmissions in the trucks.
The final panelist was Mukesh Dulani, president of DWFritz Automation in Wilsonville. It makes quality control equipment high tech that measures imperfections on the micron level. After initially being embraced by the consumer electronics industry, its products are not entering the medical field — including implants.
Both Narayanan and Dulani praised the 3 to PhD, saying their companies are struggling to find qualified engineers to work on their projects.
"Unemployment is at 4.2 percent and our human resources department can't find enough good engineers. We're hiring as fast as we can. Medical companies have problems we can solve and keep their jobs in the U.S.," said Dulani.
Saying the report's findings are "alarming and frightening to some degree," Tapogna also said state and local leaders must invest more in education.
"There's a huge opportunity for this region and state to understand where we're headed better than anyone else and get ahead of it," said Tapogna.
Other coalition members include Greater Portland, the Oregon Business Council, Oregon Business and Industry and the Port of Portland. They commissioned the report for the 2017 Oregon Business Summit that was held on Dec. 4 at the Oregon Convention Center. its theme was, "Is Oregon Future Ready?"
You can read the report at: Automation and the Future of Work
You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the report at: Automation and the Future of Work