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October 2021
Preparing for the automation of the future

Earlier this month hundreds of area high school students witnessed the impressive automation and robotics of area businesses as part of the national Manufacturing Month celebration. These Manufacturing Day events are critical to helping young people realize that careers in manufacturing, especially those of the future, involve a high level of skill and knowledge.

As Lake Land College prepares for its next strategic plan, it is taking into consideration the significant impact automation technologies and intelligent machines will have on the U.S. labor market. According to The Future of Work in America: People and Places, Today and Tomorrow, in the next decade, these changes will put many jobs that are automatable at risk. While less than 5% of jobs can be automated entirely, more than half of jobs can have up to 30% of their activities automated using current technologies. As jobs move forward, how work is organized and the mix of jobs will change based on available technology. As a result, businesses, educators and workers will have to adjust to jobs that require higher cognitive and technological skills.

These changes will cause gaps in employment especially in rural America, where The Future of Work in America authors speculate more than 25% of workers could be displaced. Areas less affected by automation are more likely to have diversified economies and workers with higher educational attainment. The occupational categories impacted the most by automation include some of the largest occupational categories, such as office support, food service, production work, customer service and retail sales. Many businesses important to our local economy fall into these categories.

While some occupations will lose jobs, other occupations such as healthcare, STEM occupations, creative fields and business services, will see strong growth. Certain occupations may see both displacement and growth, as the automation of some tasks will result in the shifting of more non-automatable tasks to current workers.

According to the Higher Education in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the skills needed for an automation economy are different than the skills accentuated by higher education in the past. The prioritized top ten skills needed by employers are: complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility.

Ultimately, the increasing reliance on automation in occupations leads to higher salaries, however, these higher salaries can only be acquired with advanced education and skills. This means that workers with only high school diplomas are the most likely to be displaced by automation and technology. In the Lake Land College district, only about 17.8% of residents have a bachelor’s degree, which is almost half of the statistic for all Illinois residents at 34.7%. However, on average, the number of people with an associate degree in Lake Land’s district are at the same level or higher than Illinois or the nation at 8.5%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Automation, the skills needed to succeed in the workplace and educational attainment are just a few of the topics College staff researched for the recently published Trend Analysis in preparation for developing the 2023-2026 Lake Land College Strategic Plan. Please be a part of our strategic planning process by taking a five-minute survey to help us in the process of identifying the goals and objectives for our next strategic plan.

I invite you to review the information presented in the Trend Analysis or quick-facts Executive Summary to consider how we can work together to serve the next generation of students, residents and businesses in our communities.