Nearly two-thirds of Inland jobs are at risk in the next 20 years due to automation, according to researchers at the University of Redlands.
Warehouse workers lead a list from the Institute of Spatial Economic Analysis, a division of the university’s school of business.
The Inland Empire had 55,660 warehouse jobs in 2016, with 47,310 of them automatable, according to ISEA. The average annual wage was $29,010.
In second and third place were retail salespeople and cashiers, with 82,400 of 87,280 jobs endangered between them.
Food services leads ISEA’s list of job categories that could be transformed, with 87.3 percent of jobs capable of being automated.
Farming and sales and retail came in second and third, with 86.6 and 8.25 percent of jobs automatable.
Overall, research ranked 62.7 percent of jobs in the Riverside/San Bernardino metropolitan area as “expected to be automated.” The region had 1,362,440 jobs earning $63.8 billion in 2016, according to ISEA.
“To be very clear, that just means the share of jobs that are technically automatable,” said Johannes Moenius, director of the institute. “That doesn’t mean the number of jobs that are going to be lost.”
Who and what is at risk
The institute reached its conclusions by combining research from a 2013 Oxford University study on the “future of employment” with data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Oxford study numerically ranked 700 jobs for probability of computerization. On the low end were such occupations as recreational therapists, dentists and choreographers. On the high end were such occupations as restaurant hosts, tax preparers and telemarketers.
ISEA is rolling out its results in phases and plans to eventually have maps online showing automatable jobs by ZIP code.
The first phase looks at demographics, with black, Hispanic and young workers most at risk.
“Differences in educational attainment likely explain the differences between demographic groups,” wrote lead researcher Jess Chen. “Young people, workers of Hispanic ethnicity and African-Americans all tend to have lower educational attainment and therefore tend to work in jobs at a higher risk of automation.”
Women also fall in the higher-risk group.
Experts have long said the Inland Empire is held back by having too few workers with educations beyond high school.
ISEA’s research came out at the same time as a report by the Public Policy Institute of California called “Meeting California’s Need for College Graduates.”
It says that college graduation needs to increase here, in Los Angeles County and in the San Joaquin Valley to avoid a shortfall of 1 million educated workers by 2025.
“The Inland Empire and the San Joaquin Valley together only award about 12 percent of the state’s bachelor’s degrees, even though they produce 27 percent of California’s high school diplomas,” the report states.
The long run
ISEA’s report shows vulnerabilities but doesn’t attempt to predict what will happen in job sectors. Chen and Moenius point out that technology has historically been a job creator.
“For every local job that has come in that has been a high creativity job, you had four or five new jobs created that were not requiring a high level of education,” said Moenius. “But with automation, we just don’t know whether this ratio will still hold. … That is the big question. But there will be new jobs coming in.”
It’s starting to happen at Norco College, according to Kevin Fleming, dean of instruction, career and technical education.
Fleming, in a phone interview, said Norco’s digital electronics program is partnering with Loma Linda University to work on wiring for robotic prosthetic limbs.
“It’s not as if the skills are so advanced everybody needs a PhD,” he said of technology’s advances.
“It’s important that our high schools, K-12, as well as junior colleges and universities continue to evolve the curriculum … As a region we want to make sure our students are aware of what’s coming. I think that’s the challenge of our educational community, to make sure we’re cutting-edge.”
Fleming does not foresee an end to the service-based economy.
“Definitely our cars are more computerized. There’s technology and automation involved in car maintenance, but I don’t think we could ever drive into a car dealership and not see a human being.”
Moenius said technology creates jobs in three ways:
Launching entirely new professions, such as mobile app developers.
Replacing occupations, such as turning assembly line workers into engineers who program robots.
Lowering costs of goods, which makes them more in demand and increases the need for workers.
“Look at the U.S. right now,” he observed. “We are close to full employment, so all the technological progress we have seen in the last decades has not led to mass unemployment. So in the long run, I think this is where we will end up again.
“What I am worried about is that in the medium run (5 to 10 years) the speed of deployment of robots and AI in the service sector will be fast enough to lead to substantial labor savings, meaning unemployment, and that the economy will not be able to create new jobs at a speedy enough pace to keep up with this.”
Institute of Spatial Economic Analysis
What it is: One of the spatial studies programs at the University of Redlands that helps business and government understand their communities.
What it does: Publishes reports retail, employment, housing, logistics and other topics.