The Changing Nature of Jobs

In several articles on TradeVistas, we’ve written about the connection between disruptive technologies and the changing nature of jobs. Why? Because competition in the form of international trade is often assigned blame for job loss, but this argument glosses over important underlying trends in education, worker training, and automation, particularly automation that impacts jobs in manufacturing industries.

The Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute is researching where automation is most disruptive, plotting on a map, accessible here, where industrial robots capable of replacing human labor are in greatest use.

According to Brookings, “more than half of the nation’s 233,305 industrial robots are burning welds, painting cars, assembling products, handling materials, or packaging things in just 10 Midwestern and Southern states, led by Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, followed closely by Tennessee.” Detroit has more than three times the number of installed robots of other U.S. metropolitan areas (15,000 or 8.5 for every 1,000 workers) but many other major manufacturing centers also saw the use of robots triple between 2010 and 2015.

Brookings offers a set of rankings for “industrial robot exposure” in large large metropolitan areas and for all metropolitan areas. Widening the scope to all metro areas changes the rankings significantly because smaller towns like Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Spartanburg, South Carolina experience higher “robot density”. For example, Elkhart, Indiana (home of RV production) has 25.9 robots for every 1,000 workers.

This is not to say that robots are in every case displacing jobs, but automation is certainly changing the types of jobs available and the skills needed to fill them. Explore the robot map and monitor Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program for emerging data on this important topic.