Challenging assumptions and seeking solutions about why aren’t you fixing this

The Hidden Virus to the New Orleans Economy (Photo Creds: Wendy Wei)

One of the most devastating technologies to national progress has been the automation of robots in the workforce. In his article, Study Finds Strong Links between Automation and Inequality, Peter Dizike exposes that each robot implemented into the American workforce “replaced 3.3 jobs” and that 44% of American workers, or fifty-three million low-skilled workers, are at serious risk of unemployment. Further, our reliance on technology has outpaced what our workforce can afford. As companies attempt to optimize their processes for optimal efficiency, Dizikie believes low-skilled workers will face the consequences. As these low-skilled workers are unable to afford re-education, Dizikie believes that “lower-skill workers are not just failing to make gains; they are actively pushed backward financially” and that the only new occupations from automation only help “high-skilled workers” (Dizkie). Also, in Carolina Rodriguez-Bustelo’s essay, Debating the Future of Work: The Perception and Reaction of the Spanish Workforce to Digitization and Automation Technologies, Rodriguez-Bustelo finds that “about 47 percent of total United States employment to be at risk” through automation technologies (Rodriguez-Bustelo). As robots become more intelligent and capable of more human tasks, low-skilled workers face a new reality where their professional skills are no longer required. 

But the effects of automation do not stop there. Vocational careers have historically been one of the most stable incomes for millions of Americans. In addition, many vocational schools are significantly cheaper than American Universities and offer training within multiple industries. However, Patrick Beer, in his paper, The Effects of Technological Developments on Work and Their Implications for Continuous Vocational Education and Training: A Systematic Review, exposes that these careers will soon be obsolete. Beer believes that automation has grown so fast that “manual work is reported to decrease on many occasions” (Beer). So, not only are low-skilled workers in trouble of unemployment but also millions of Americans in vocational careers. From pizza delivery drivers to warehouse workers, robots will one day replace all low-skilled workers. An even more surprising fact that Rodriguez-Bustelo finds is that the most at-risk occupations are in the tourism and service industries, two of the most prominent sectors in New Orleans. 

Although an essential aspect of the New Orleans economy, the reliance on tourism and low-skilled labor is a hidden virus within the New Orleans community. Although tourism saves New Orleans residents almost $3,587 in annual taxes, the industry will kill the New Orleans community one day. Unlike other cities, New Orleans relies so heavily on tourism that over sixty-two thousand residents work in the tourism industry. Further, New Orleans reports that another forty-nine thousand residents work in the “food preparation and servicing related” industry. Connecting these statistics with 27% of New Orleans residents of current working age being “low-skilled and likely low-literate”, many New Orleans residents should be scared concerning the advances of automation in the workplace. Further, as New Orleans relies so heavily on tourism, there are very few other industries in the immediate community. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down events such as Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and other popular tourism events, the New Orleans economy lost over $76 million in revenue and cost the city over $8.6 million. Although these events will continue, the near future will provide these events without any human labor. And if so, the people partying will not be the ones affected. 

Tulane students have already seen the consequences of automation. Starting in 2022, Tulane has implemented robots known as “Kiwibots”, which deliver food from the Lavin-Bernick Center to on-campus locations, including dorms. With over 30 Kiwibots deployed, Tulane University has shown its commitment to autonomous robots in its community. Although the robots are seen as an innovative way for Tulane to compete with other universities, the task of delivering food from the Lavin-Bernick Center was held by a human not eight months ago. Additionally, in Tulane’s news release of the Kiwibots, John Lange, assistant vice president for Dining and Event Services at Tulane, stated that Tulane “recognized Kiwibot as a cost-effective and sustainable delivery option” over other possible options. Just as predicted, organizations will seek the cheapest option if it creates more leisure for their customers and their bottom line. However, even if technology has made some lives better, it has not made life easier for the workers they replace.  With Tulane providing over thirteen thousand jobs to residents and $3.14 billion annually to the New Orleans economy, we must notify the university of the consequences their seemingly “innovative” actions carry. 

As previous positions filled by low-skilled workers will soon evaporate, we must find constructive ways to reposition these workers for other occupations. In a recent article, Charlotte Burrows, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunities (EEOC), reported that more than 80% of US employers are using “AI in some form of their work and employment”. Her statement led me to believe that legislation would be a solution to protecting low-skilled workers. However, Burrows also reports that zero states have yet to implement protections for those most at risk. After a conversation with a chief information officer of a pharmaceutical company, who has spent thirty-two years in the technology industry, the only solution to autonomous robots in the workforce is the re-education of low-skilled workers. Although I initially thought legislation would be a solution, the expert explained that no current legislation exists or will ever be passed through the “Revolving Door” politics that plague our country. 

Instead, he believed that the only solution for low-skilled workers would be re-educating themselves. He explained that more companies are accepting applicants who do not hold stereotypical 4-year degrees, as many skills involving technology can be learned outside the classroom. Further, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced education to online options, technology courses can be found for free on services such as LinkedIn Learning, Google Analytics, and Wall Street Prep. All these resources come at no cost and can teach low-skilled workers essential skills that elevate their professional candidacy. However, I believe that these courses are not enough. In addition to these courses, the federal government must increase its spending on public school STEM programs. Currently, the Department of Education spends $6.6 billion on STEM programs within the public school system. Compared to the $1.64 trillion spent on our military, current STEM funding is quite minuscule. As the government will not fund the protection of workers, they must fund the re-education of the workers their policies replace. An increase in funding would place more opportunities in the hands of marginalized communities and replace the economic support low-skilled positions carry. 

A New Commitment to Education (Photo Creds: Julia Cameron)

One tremendous insight from my solution is the responsibility it places on workers to re-educate themselves. Although I believe that workers must be proactive to be successful, my solution does require all fifty-three million low-skilled Americans to seek out educational resources. However, the courses I have listed above are free and can be completed at one’s own pace. Another insight my solution exposes is that our government may be unaware of the true consequences automotive robots have in our workforce. As we continue to prioritize our leisure and the efficiency of corporations, automotive robots are the future laborers of both low-skilled tasks and the service industry. However, our government has yet to implement any legislation or regulation that protects these workers. 

One of the most significant limitations of online learning was its acceptance by our academic and corporate cultures. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning was frowned upon compared to in-person education. Not only were educators less supportive of online learning, but corporations also did not support the degrees in their interview process. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of students to learn from their homes, schools and corporations now see online learning as almost identical to in-person learning. Now, the certifications from online courses are similar to college degrees but cost significantly less. Another limitation of my solution is the time that these courses require. Many workers in low-skilled positions must work intensive hours to support themselves and their families through our stagnant minimum wage laws. Asking these workers to spend their free time on education replaces any time they would have for themselves and their families. Thankfully, these courses are taken on the student’s time and can be completed periodically. Instead of spending time going to class and working in a classroom, low-skilled workers can complete these courses from their homes on their schedule. Evidence of success can be found by looking at the decrease in 4-year degrees held by workers in Silicon Valley, one of the wealthiest regions in the world. In a recent study conducted on Google, researchers found a 17% decrease in employees with a 4-year degree from 2017 to 2021. IBM, one of the largest corporations in the world, recently reported that 10% to 15% of all new hires “don’t have traditional 4-year degrees”. With such a commitment to hiring outside of the stereotypical candidate, I believe more companies will join the trend and support hiring non-traditional candidates, including re-educated, low-skilled workers. 

Implementing my solution in New Orleans would work through a three-step process.

First, the New Orleans city government would start a marketing campaign for the above-mentioned free courses. Placing ads in tourism events, government TV programs, and schools will all help expose New Orleans residents to the power these courses contain.

Next, the state government would use the increased STEM funding from the federal government to place similar courses into the public and charter school curriculum to expose students to the usefulness of STEM background. This would help low-skilled workers become aware of the courses and their importance and assist future generations in becoming less reliant on the current service industry positions. Additionally, students would leave high school with certifications that are just as important as 4-year degrees. If we prepare the younger generation with such skills, we can create new industries in the New Orleans region that support the economy and the population, not just the tourists.

The final step is creating a city-funded program to help low-skilled workers reposition themselves and offer skills, including resume workshops, presentation skills, and interview skills. The program would be able to expose workers to all the free certifications and how to expose themselves to new professions. The program would also offer long-term support, including a network of New Orleans companies seeking employees with non-traditional degrees. Although much of the responsibility is placed on the worker, the three-step strategy will help thousands of New Orleans residents find new employment roles that offer true financial stability. 

However, there are many difficulties with my solution. First, low-skilled workers must be informed of their economic position and that their professions will be gone within the next ten years. Those most at risk must understand that they can no longer rely on their profession and must seek out educational resources. As corporations have no incentive to tell their workers to leave, the city must intervene with a city-wide ad campaign. Second, those most at risk must use their free time for re-education and will not see any economic impact until after the courses are completed. Becoming certified in STEM skills does improve a person’s candidacy, but nothing is guaranteed. However, by not re-educating themselves, New Orleans residents have few options to support themselves. Finally, my solution requires a significant influx of funding from the federal government, which rarely ever happens. Federal intervention is imperative because neither the city nor the state government has any incentive to regulate autonomous robots. Without federal funding, New Orleans would be unable to increase STEM courses and continue to leave students with few professional pathways. 

Yet, my solution offers low-skilled residents the best chance of economic stability. Even if the city cannot receive federal funding for increased STEM courses, exposing the population to these free certifications’ power will greatly reduce the reliance on professions in the tourism and service industry. Unlike popular opinion, minimum wage jobs are not supposed to support an adult worker, let alone an entire family. New Orleans residents in these positions must accept that they are working in a dying industry and that the only solution to job instability is to carry irreplaceable skills. Further, my solution does not cost these workers any of their money and can be completed at their own pace. Regardless of solutions, I hope my paper exposes that New Orleans residents face a grim reality and that no city or state government has tried to protect these workers from autonomous robots. One day, even teachers could be at risk of unemployment. If we do not make a stand on autonomous robots, even more Americans will face a future of unemployment.


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