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Automation & Employment In The Hoosier State

Factory automation with industrial robots for palletizing food products (KUKA Roboter, WIkimedia Commons)

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For decades, the American manufacturing job was a gateway to a middle class life. Now, such jobs are under threat. While many jobs go overseas as companies look to lower their employee costs, more and more jobs are going to robots.

Manufacturing is a staple of the Hoosier economy. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, Indiana is the sixth largest manufacturer by output in the country, employing just under 17 percent of the state’s workforce.

As automation in manufacturing continues to develop and expand, thousands of jobs are on the line in Indiana.

This week on Noon Edition we’ll talk about the effect of automation on employment in Indiana and beyond.

Guests:

Emily J. Wornell, research assistant professor, Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research

Andrew Berger, Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs, Indiana Manufacturers Association

Robert James, President, United Steelworkers Local 1999

Conversation on Automation and Manufacturing

Robert James is a union leader who has spent years around steel manufacturing. He worries that current efforts at retraining workers who will lose their jobs to automation are too little, too late.

“If the only time you offer training is when plants are closing down or or when plants are moving, I see a problem with that,” James says.

He says automation will mainly benefit employers, leaving job seekers behind.

Emily Wornell says that automation is a much wider and long-term issue than most people think. She says that the children of those laid off due to automation are also affected, through stress and a lack of opportunities moving forward.

Wornell also says that some communities are much more vulnerable to losing jobs to automation.

“As much as two thirds of jobs in some counties in Indiana are at risk of being automated in the future. It has the potential to have a really massive impact,” she says.

Andrew Berger agrees with James that companies need to do a better job training workers in new skills much earlier.

Berger says the manufacturing industry in the Hoosier state is strong.

“Since the recession, Indiana has added 109,000 manufacturing jobs, second in the nation,” he says.

He says the Hoosier manufacturing industry still needs another 10,000 workers for open positions and that this demand will drive up wages.

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