Washington prepares for workforce changes caused by automation, AI

Inslee leads discussion among governors on the future of work

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Stores without cashiers are just the beginning of the changes expected in the workforce because of automation, robots and artificial intelligence, and governors throughout the country want to prepare workers and our economy for that transition.

Over the weekend, Gov. Jay Inslee led a discussion on the future of work among his fellow governors, who had convened in Santa Fe for the National Governors Association’s summer meeting. Inslee is co-chair of the NGA’s Education and Workforce Committee and was selected Saturday to continue in that role next year with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

“In all 50 states, we share the promises of artificial intelligence and automation, but we also have anxiety in our communities about the transition associated with these changes,” Inslee said. “As governors, we must ensure that this transition improves people’s lives and our economy.”

Gov. Jay Inslee leads a conversation Saturday at a National Governor’s Association meeting in Santa Fe about automation, artificial intelligence and the future of work. (NGA)

Experts warn changes in the economy could shrink number of middle-income jobs

During the meeting, Inslee and other governors heard from experts, including Princeton University economics and public affairs professor Alan Krueger, a former adviser to the Obama Administration. Krueger said he believes automation and AI will hit lower wage earners the hardest, and that leaders should help ensure that there are enough middle-wage jobs for workers.

“The economy is not generating enough opportunities for middle class workers and workers from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Krueger said. “My concern is not about a jobless future. My concern is about the types of jobs that will be created — whether they will pay enough for people to raise families in dignity, and to feel that they are part of the American Dream.”

In addition to providing workers with the skills needed to land future jobs, Krueger said state leaders must consider preparing our infrastructure for the transition, as well as finding ways to protect workers’ rights in an economy where many employees lack union representation.

At Inslee’s request, the group also received a workforce development analysis from Richard Davey, Associate Director of the Boston Consulting Group, who spoke about the importance of making new career opportunities available to everyone, especially the middle class.

The analysis shared that 45 percent of employers worldwide have difficulty hiring skilled workers. While the jobs exist, there aren’t enough qualified candidates to fill them.

Additionally, middle-wage jobs are “foundational to economic health,” according to the report, but such jobs had the slowest growth in the past decade.

Gov. Jay Inslee leads a conversation on the future of work during the National Governors Association’s summer meeting Saturday in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (National Governors Association video)

To keep workers’ skills current, Washington is upping its focus on career-connected learning

The BCG analysis stressed the importance of predicting and identifying talent shortages and then creating opportunities to teach people the skills needed to land those jobs. In Western states, employment is expected to grow 16.7 percent between 2014 and 2024, and the industries expected to grow the fastest in the West are fabrication, the biomedical sciences, computer science and electronics.

Inslee spoke about the work being done in Washington state to prepare young people for the thousands of good-paying jobs coming online. As part of the Career Connect Washington initiative, Washington is expanding registered apprenticeships, including those for youth. Washington has grown the number of registered apprenticeships for 18 consecutive quarters, and has spearheaded innovative apprenticeships in computer programming.

And this year, Inslee signed Senate Bill 6544, establishing the Future of Work Task Force, which will stay up-to-date on changes in the workforce when it comes to technology, workplace practices, the environment, cybersecurity and globalization.

“Future-proofing our workforce goes beyond education and job-training.” Inslee said. “It also includes workplace benefits and standards to ensure equity for all Americans, and to protect those who are displaced due to automation and AI.”

During the NGA summer meeting, Inslee also participated in plenary sessions on the outdoor recreation industry and the importance of arts and culture in economic development. Watch those sessions here: