Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, automation, artificial intelligence and robotics are changing the employment landscape in New Jersey, across the country and around the world.

But it’s not going to happen overnight.

According to Katy George, a senior partner at McKinsey and Co., and a co-author of a new McKinsey Global Institute report, “we already see many examples of companies in New Jersey and beyond accelerating purchases of new robotics that are cheaper, more flexible and safer than ever before, but this will be a decades-long process.”

“Many of the promises that this technology brings, the base technology is available, but the actual applications and tools are not yet available.

Don Sebastian, president and CEO of the New Jersey Innovation Institute at New Jersey Institute of Technology, says that while automation, artificial intelligence and robotics are advancing, “as Yogi Berra once said, it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. It’s difficult to predict how fast these things will accelerate into full-blown reality because many of them have been kicking around for many, many years."

George said artificial intelligence, robotics and automation is not just affecting production lines in factories.

“About 60 percent of all jobs have at least 30 percent of their activities that can be automated, so almost everybody in every job will be impacted in some way by automation,” she said.

“However only 5 percent or less of all jobs could be fully automated, so you’re not going to see complete elimination of job categories.”

She pointed out automation is being used in “things like collecting data and analyzing data, and so there are even parts of very high-wage jobs, like physicians or lawyers or consultants, where activities can be automated.”

The trend will certainly result in jobs being lost, but there’s a flip side to that.

“The analysis that we’ve done shows that automation can be a very significant boon to productivity and economic growth, which will benefit everybody. But it will mean that people need to up their skills around using data and analyzing data, and find ways to complement the capabilities that animation brings,” said George

“All professions affected by animation still need people who are going to operate in supervisory capacity,” said Sebastian.

“People who understand the business and understand the nuisances to manipulate and control how those robotics and automated systems are going to be deployed, it creates then a huge number of service technician jobs. You will now need service techs to ensure the health of the robotics.”

“They’ll be many jobs that need to change and the balance of work that people will be doing will be to move away from collecting data and predicable physical activity and towards more creative activities that are complementary to automation.”

But will all of our industries become affected by advanced technology? Are there any truly automation-proof jobs?

George pointed out for the foreseeable future some types of jobs will still have to be done by humans.

“Tasks like interfacing with stakeholders in an organization, applying expertise to decision-making, planning, bringing creativity to tasks, managing and developing people,” she said

So is the trend toward animation something to be feared?

“This trend should be embraced. This is a great compliment to our workforce in terms of driving productivity and economic growth for our society,” said George

“It will however require that we aggressively invest in upscaling our labor force ourselves, and those younger folks who are coming into the workforce. It will be very critical that people become flexible and resilient and able to learn new things as new technology takes hold.”

The challenge, said Sebastian, will be to figure out “how to get everyone trained and calibrated and functional to be able to live in this new reality.”

“For New Jersey, this is a tremendous opportunity. This is a state that is rich in scientists and engineers and we already have great programs to help train the unemployed and underemployed to grow into the jobs of the future,” he said.

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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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