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Technology is changing lifestyles and impacting labor market - February 26 2014

Have you ever visited Tomorrowland? It was one of the original park attractions when Disneyland opened in 1955. Walt Disney described it as a place to view “wondrous ideas…a step into the future with predictions of constructed things to come.” On display were picture phones, remote control units for televisions and microwave ovens.

Visitors were in awe of these devices.

Today, Disney World’s biggest challenge is to make sure their exhibits of “things to come” remain relevant and the essence of Tomorrowland means more than just the day after today but further into the future.

Their task is difficult these days as companies have reduced the length of time an idea is conceived to the time it is on a shelf at your favorite store.

Apple introduced the iPad in April 2010. Today, the iPad Air represents the fifth generation of the tablet device. And, in that time span, the total sales of all tablets sold by Apple, Samsung, Amazon and others is greater than sales of personal computers.

While I have begun to understand the impact technology has on my personal life, Tom Friedman has brought to life the impact computers are having on the workplace. My first exposure to him was reading his book “The World is Flat” and since then, through his other books and column in the New York Times.

He is a genius in trend spotting; but perhaps his greater gift is his writing style. He looks at technology and other factors affecting the world economy and explains the impact on the workforce and workers in an understandable and meaningful way. Let me share a few examples.

We are moving towards driverless cars which will soon morph into driverless trucks. This will have an incredible impact on the transportation, distribution and logistics industry. It is possible transportation costs will be reduced without the need for the thousands of truck drivers we need today.

Computers can now be used to quickly screen larges piles of documents (and to store them as well). That reduces the need for patent attorneys and their paralegals. Already, enrollment in law schools across the country is down as law school graduates scramble for work in their profession.

Three dimensional, computer-aided software applications can now design parts that are transmitted to a 3-D printer which can build or print a piece right before our eyes. As this technology advances, it may have a substantial impact on manufacturing, the largest sector of jobs in the state of Indiana.

In The World is Flat, Friedman says every worker should try to become “untouchable.” Such status, argues Friedman, means your job cannot be outsourced. Friedman divides untouchables into four, broad categories: workers with “special skills” (LaBron James and Paul McCartney), “specialized workers” (brain surgeons and advanced machine tool and robot operators), “anchored workers” because their jobs cannot be performed in China (plumbers, nurses, electricians), and “really adaptable” workers (people with a skill but committed to life long learning).

There will be many jobs for folks in management, in education, healthcare, the media and engineering and the sciences.

These are jobs which both the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board and READY NWI are promoting as our jobs of the future. But more importantly, it is the knowledge and skill sets which people need to acquire in order to support these jobs.

I leave you with one final glimpse into the future: rather than paying FedEx or UPS to deliver your next purchase, Amazon says it is considering the used of unmanned drones to drop your most recent purchase in your back yard. Just be sure to keep Fido in the house on delivery day.

Written by Linda Woloshansky

President and CEO

Center of Workforce Innovations and the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board

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