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Opinion: Will the AI revolution lead to job losses?

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The start of the Roaring ’20s was an age of prosperity in the United States. For the first time, ever more people lived in cities than in rural communities. Radio connected people across the country until TV made its debut seven years into the decade. Power steering was invented in 1926 and now, a century later, cars drive themselves. What a difference 100 years makes.

Common job titles in the 1920s – like stenographers, draymen, raftsmen, launderers – are perhaps a foreign language to those entering the workforce today. In contrast, LinkedIn’s 20 trending job titles for 2023 include virtual reality architect, data protection consultant, drone operator, digital health coach, cybersecurity analyst, AI ethicist and chief happiness officer. All of which were likely to have been a foreign language to workers 100 years ago, especially the last one.

We can only wonder what the world will look like three or four generations from now and what kind of jobs will exist. A hundred years from now, will robotic surgery look as primitive as the introduction of the electric stove?

While many think artificial intelligence is the greatest thing since sliced bread (invented in 1928), there are those who fear AI will displace workers and even pose an existential threat to humanity. The datafication of the soaring 2020s could offer the same multiplier effect on human evolution as the electrification age of the roaring 1920s.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing jobs experienced tremendous gains as the economy transitioned to wartime production during World War II, which began in 1939. Jobs in manufacturing continued to grow for the next 40 years before peaking in 1979 at roughly 19.4 million jobs. Over the next 40 years, manufacturing jobs have been in a steady decline and currently sit at 12.98 million jobs as of December 2023, per the BLS.

Over that same 40-year period following the beginning of World War II, all other major U.S. job categories experienced growth. The biggest job gainers were concentrated in education and health services, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and trade, transportation and utilities.

Supply chain weaknesses exposed by COVID-19, geopolitical tensions and government incentives are leading to the reshoring of American manufacturing. According to a study by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, manufacturers will need to fill 4 million jobs by 2030. The study states that if more workers do not pursue modern manufacturing careers, an estimated 2.1 million jobs could go unfilled. Not filling those jobs would prevent manufacturers from expanding or engaging in new projects. Deloitte estimates the cost of not filling those jobs to be as high as $1 trillion in 2030.

This data suggests that there is a void to fill, and advances in AI, robotics and automation are not going to replace the need for skilled workers. America will need more manufacturing workers over the coming years, not fewer workers.

The need locally is so great that in 2020, Ozarks Technical Community College broke ground on the Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing, a $40 million project that features state-of-the-art programs in robotics, fabrication, mechatronics, automation, drafting and design, and 3D printing. OTC offers a combination of over 100 degrees and certificates of achievements in various trades.

Technology is rapidly changing industries. Perhaps the only workers at risk of getting left behind are those who do not adapt. Staying up to date on industry trends and learning how to enhance different skill sets may be the most valuable tool a worker can possess.

So, will artificial intelligence lead to job losses? History shows that advances in technology have only added jobs, and there’s no reason to think that this time will be any different. A retooling of the workforce is needed and underway. And, based on history, there’s a possibility that your young child’s future job has yet to be invented.

Andy Drennen is a certified financial planner and senior portfolio manager at Simmons Private Wealth in Springfield. He can be reached at andy.drennen@simmonsbank.com.

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