Assessing the Future of Our Work

Assessing the Future of Our Work (pdf)

Throughout history, the rise of new technologies has drastically changed the nature of work — both as a cause of and a response to massive historical shifts. Cities feel these shifts most acutely, serving as the places where these rapid movements are found, focused, and filtered into broader society.

In our new report, Assessing the Future of Our Work: Automation and the Role of Cities, we examine growing American occupations and their susceptibility to automation — ranking them with low, medium, or high automatability.

Knowledge sharing and new ideas form within a conglomeration of individuals as the density of people from all walks of life, cultures, and creeds create a dynamism that pushes us forward. This dynamism often leads to disruption — as well as great upheaval — as technology upends fundamental ways of being.

As automation and robotics permeate great swaths of the workforce — hyper-charged by the advent of usable artificial intelligence — we currently find ourselves in just such a period, in which large numbers of workers will be displaced as the new washes away the old.

No industry, job, or task is safe from automation. Displacement of existing jobs is a given, and the new kinds of jobs that will arise in their place remain unknown. Today, new technologies can optimize manual, automatic, routine, and non-routine tasks alike, making displacement difficult to quantify.

In short, even the lowest estimates on automation mean that millions of Americans will be out of work — but cities can take strategic steps to prepare for this future.

Assessing the Future of our Work identifies different categories of occupations and attempts to bridge the gaps between those with high and low automatability. We suggest the best skills and logical career crosswalks towards better opportunities and sustainable local economies. Finally, we present case examples from three American cities to display how they are supporting and scaling accessible pathways to employment, equity, and emerging industries.

While cities can do little to prevent the elimination of jobs due to automation, they can prepare their local economies for prospective high- demand jobs that have low probabilities of being automated. They can also equip workers with those promising skill sets that will be in demand in the future.

About the author: Brooks Rainwater is the senior executive director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.