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The Future of Work in the Capital Region

By Evan Schmidt

I got my first smartphone in 2011. Only seven years ago, yet, this technology has fundamentally changed my daily life, for better and worse.

It is simultaneously amazing, overwhelming, enhancing, and distracting to have nearly every piece of information I need at my fingertips (not to mention a lot of information that I don’t need). Of course it’s not just phones. Technologies like 3D printers, the ability to collect “big data,” autonomous vehiclesartificial intelligence, and so much more have fundamentally changed our personal and work lives, and the worldwide economy. As Thomas Friedman describes, technology is accelerating faster than humans can adapt, creating tension and uncertainty. I already feel this in my work and family life.  As I think about me and my children’s ability to thrive and be successful in the future, I wonder, what are the consequences of life immersed in technology? What will happen next? How do we prepare people for this future?

These are the questions that underpinned the recent series of forums that Valley Vision hosted, entitled Workforce Technology Forum Series: Changing Occupations and Skills in an Automated World. These forums were supported by our regional Workforce Development Boards (WDB), demonstrating the leadership and collaboration of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA)/Sacramento Works WDB, the Golden Sierra WDB, the North Central Counties Consortium WDB, and the Yolo WDB. The goal is to bring together workforce development practitioners, educators, employers, community partners, and elected officials, including Congresswoman Matsui and Congressman Bera, to have critical discussions and start prioritizing actions to ensure that our regional workforce (and their children!)  can readily adapt to whatever changes the future brings. Valley Vision held forums in Woodland, Rocklin, Marysville, and Sacramento to understand the unique issues going on all around the region.

What did we learn?

National research provided the basic foundation to inform our discussions. Valley Vision compiled a research brief that framed the discussion and documented national trends. We drew from many sources, including a recent report from The Brookings Institution, published in late 2017.  A major focus was the rate of digitalization (or penetration of digital technology into the workplace) in sectors, geographies, and occupations across the nation. Some of the key findings included:

  • Jobs are becoming more digitalized at every level – fifteen years ago you could get an entry level job without any digital skills. Today those jobs are fewer and fewer. This goes for middle skills, or “good jobs” as well. Today 86% of middle skill jobs require digital skills, compared to 49% fifteen years ago.
  • The more a job is digitalized, the higher the wage is, on average. So, moving into the future, digitalization will be a major driver of social mobility.
  • Right now, there is uneven access to digital jobs – Latinos, Blacks, and women are underrepresented. Without intentionally working to level the playing field, significant demographics of people will get left behind.

The most important learnings were from the participants of the forums themselves, which helped to support national research findings and provided an important local context. Some of the highlights include:

  • The national findings were consistent with what employers across the region are experiencing. For example, Gordon Rogers with the Owens Group is experiencing the jump to higher levels of digitalization across occupations in architecture. Yet, it is difficult to find enough employees that are prepared to use the digital technologies that are required to meet customer demand.
  • Sectors that you might not expect to be impacted, are. For example, the standardization of recipes, processes to monitor food safety, and the digitalization of menus and ordering has transformed the restaurant industry, according to John Pickerel from Buckhorn Steakhouse, headquartered in Winters and employing 600 people in the region. Information technology is a fundamental skill across sectors.
  • Information technology needs to be a basic skill taught across all disciplines in school. Employers also need workers with adaptable skills who can learn new technologies on the job and be ready for continuous learning.
  • Lack of resources and bureaucratic systems get in the way of educators preparing students for the technology needs of today and tomorrow. They can’t afford the tools they need and investing in changing technologies can be difficult to rationalize. Educators need support from employers to increase occupation awareness, provide information, and assist with resources to effectively train students.

Our complete report with top recommendations will be coming out soon and we are planning a Summit this summer to discuss how we move to action. Additionally, the Brookings Institution has been hired by Valley Vision and local partners to conduct an “economic stress test” on our region. This report will dive into a more detailed, region-specific analysis of the digitalization rate of the Capital region and the implications for the future. Their analysis and recommendations will help inform our understanding of what the future of work will look like for our region, and what we should do about it.

We never could have imagined the way smartphones and other technologies have changed our lives just ten (or so) years ago. As we think about changes to come, we can’t predict the future, but we can use data and good collaboration practices to transform our current systems to be resilient, inclusive, and adaptive.

To collaborate or stay up-to-date with Valley Vision’s work, please subscribe to Valley Vision’s email newsletters or contact us.

Evan Schmidt is Valley Vision’s Director of Strategy and Evaluation working on the Public Opinion Surveying initiative and projects in the Healthy Communities and 21st Century Workforce strategy areas.