Nevada’s workers could be hit hard by automation

Great strides to make our lives easier and simplified are being made in Nevada and across the nation by the use of automation in the form of robots and drones.

In Northern Nevada, for example, a Reno company named Flirty is using drones to deliver defibrillators to heart attack victims much swifter than paramedics are able to transport the life-saving devices to persons experiencing cardiac arrest. The firm is also experimenting with the delivery of food and other items by drones in the Reno-Sparks-Carson City areas.

In Southern Nevada, robots are now used at several Las Vegas Strip hotels to deliver food to hotel rooms, stock in-room refrigerators, mix drinks and assist guests in registering for rooms and paying their bills when checking out.

And Walmart is making plans to deliver groceries and other commodities by drones based at several of its Nevada stores and to utilize robots to clean the stores’ floors and stock their shelves. Walmart has announced it will invest $16.3 million in these and other innovations in its Nevada operations this year and will spend $11 billion nationally to partially automate its stores by the use of robotic floor scrubbers, shelf scanners and “pickup machines” for customers who have ordered groceries and other items online.

These new technologies, however, come at a price: As automation expands, the need for employees to perform these lower level staff functions decreases, resulting in unemployment that would lead to financial disaster for many of these laid-off workers.

Three months ago, Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Northern Nevada, warned that Nevada will be negatively impacted by automation more than any other state.

“Nevada is number one in the nation for expected job loss to automation,” he wrote in a Technology News and Trends Report. Automation also could also kill up to 73 million jobs in the United States by 2030, and one-half of those still employed who want to keep their jobs will have to be retrained in the next three to five years or they might find themselves out of work as well, he added.

But some economists state that many employees shouldn’t be too concerned about being replaced by robots and drones, reasoning that workers who perform low-skilled, perfunctory tasks such as cleaning floors and stocking shelves can be retrained to perform face-to-face, personalized service jobs. “One of the biggest complaints Walmart gets is their customer service. If you have humans doing emotional work, it’s a win-win for employees, customers and Walmart,” said Lee Peterson, executive vice president of marketing for WD Partners, a consulting firm for large businesses.

Kamierski, in speaking about retraining, said he doesn’t believe that automation will negatively affect all workers in the state.

Although automation will decidedly cause many to lose low-paying jobs, “it allows us with a little bit of skill to get paid a lot more. For the people in the workforce, they need to go back to school to start taking courses. There’s a personal interest in getting better because then you’re worth more,” he stated.

Economist David Autor observed that the introduction of ATM machines increased, rather than decreased, the number of bank teller jobs “which requires more creativity and problem-solving than just counting money and making deposits.” But other economists believe that many branch banks will close in coming years because their customers are finding it easier to bank online via their computers, iPhones and other electronic devices.

The bottom line here is that although automation of the marketplace certainly will continue to expand, if too many workers lose their jobs to robots and drones, a declining number of people will be left to purchase the services of the nation’s businesses. This is turn will cause those businesses to lay off even more employees. The unemployed would become penniless, many businesses would fail and the U.S. could face an unprecedented financial disaster, massive homelessness, worker strikes and even economic collapse.

David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.


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