Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Future of Work in Cities

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager

There are some economic development truths that many of us can stand behind—two are that talent is the top issue in economic development today and that technology has changed the landscape of businesses which in turn affects our workforce. Here at Market Street, one of our popular research offerings is our Workforce Sustainability Analysis, where we take a look at a community’s talent strengths and weaknesses, and a component of that document takes on the question of how susceptible is that community to continued advances in automation. 

In 2016, the National League of Cities published its The Future of Work in Cities report. In it, they provide a history of shifts in occupations and work trends in America. It also shares the McKinsey Global Institute’s prediction that “15-25 percent of tasks in manufacturing, packing, construction, maintenance, and agriculture could be cost-effectively automated by 2025,” that “commercial—service robots could perform 7-12 percent of tasks in food preparation, health care, commercial cleaning, and elder care by 2025,” and that if technological advance continue at their present rapid pace, “automation tools could perform the work of between 110 and 140 million people globally by 2025.” In addition, self-driving cars will eventually become a threat to truck-drivers. 

So what can communities do to prepare for these changes? The last section of this report provides several recommendations for communities to consider. The following are just a select few that Market Street believes in and supports through our work across the country:

  • Public officials must work with business leaders, educational institutional leadership, and community-based organizations to match education and workforce training programs with evolving employer needs. It is ever-important to build and strengthen the “cradle to career” pipeline to ensure that homegrown talent is prepared for the jobs in the community while also attracting talent.
  • Cities, counties, regional, and state partners should work together to provide a business-friendly environment, particularly for entrepreneurs and high-growth startup businesses. 
  • Communities must give attention to equity within business development programs by supporting minority- and women-owned businesses and incentivizing investment in distressed neighborhoods through programs like Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Enterprise Zone program.
  • Investing in the community’s infrastructure will remain vital to economic development—high-speed internet and diverse options for commuting are critical to competitiveness in today’s talent-driven environment.
  • Retraining displaced workers is one of the only ways to keep up with technological advances. As occupations are phased out, there must be a clear way for those workers to obtain transitional skills training so that they can continue to work in related fields.

There are several other worthwhile recommendations in this report as well as case studies from cities like Pittsburgh and Seattle. If you have a few minutes to spare, The Future of Work in Cities is definitely a must-read!