GAO calls for better data collection on automation's impact
- The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) tracks changes in the U.S. workforce, but the data it collects on technology's effect on the workforce is limited, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO also said that although DOL's U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies jobs expected to experience changes from notable causes, including robotics developments, it doesn't examine all changes caused by advanced technologies.
- In a step toward closing that gap, GAO studied employment trends and job characteristics related to automation. Industries with the largest number of jobs targeted for automation between 2010 and 2016 were more likely to have expanded roles in computing, mathematics and engineering — potentially a sign that these industries plan to adopt advanced technologies, GAO said. The report also found that job loss from automation in industries with a bigger share of targeted jobs wasn't significant between 2010 and 2016. Employees with jobs susceptible to automation disproportionately included "workers with no college education and Hispanic workers," GAO said.
- The agency recommended that DOL develop ways to use new or existing data-collecting methods to identify and track the effects of automation on the workforce. GAO said DOL agreed with its recommendation and said it would continue to collaborate with Census Bureau.
Government agencies, employers and workers appear equally unsure about automation's potential impact on the workforce.
According to a January study, most Americans worry it will have an adverse impact on U.S. jobs. The fear transcended geographic and demographic lines, but was concentrated most among job holders with the least amount of education — those who stand to lose the most, according to GAO.
However, another study found that job loss due to mass layoffs was more catastrophic than displacement by automation. Other reports predict that automation will create more jobs than it kills but even that shift would necessitate a significant response from employers, requiring an investment in training and reskilling workers to keep pace.