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Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto, License: N/A, Created: 2019:08:03 05:49:31

by Phil Yacuboski

Have you noticed the number of self-checkouts increasing at the local grocery store? Or the self-serve kiosk at your favorite fast food joint?

Automation is here to stay, argue many, and a recent study found the Scranton area ranks eighth out of 100 when it comes to jobs at risk for automation.

“They have a large percentage of jobs that are vulnerable to automation,” said Derek Miller, an analyst with MagnifyMoney, who examined the 100 largest metropolitan cities across the United States and analyzed their data. Miller also authored the study. “Two big examples are the number of secretaries and administrative assistants and cashiers.”

He said the area has about 5,000 administrative assistants and roughly 7,000 cashiers. Miller said when you add all of the jobs together, the Scranton area contains about 64% of jobs that are at risk for automation, which works out to around 169,000 out of 260,000 jobs in the region.

“It’s difficult to say why each metro region is the way it is,” said Miller. “One thing we do see is that certain kinds of job that were popular in the past – like menial skills that don’t need a lot of specific human interaction or stuff that computers can do – are at risk for automation.”

A June 2019 report by Oxford Economics, found that robots could automate nearly 20 million manufacturing jobs by 2030. The same study estimates 260,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost to automation since 2000 alone.

Miller used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for his research.

He said it’s not that lower paid, lower skilled jobs are always at risk for automation; he cited nursing aides as an example. Miller said the jobs at highest risk are the ones that require little education.

“Those jobs are not likely going to be automated because they require human interaction,” he said.

Miller’s findings ranked Las Vegas as the number-one city at risk for automation, followed by Stockton, California and Winter Haven, Florida. Allentown ranks 11th on the list. Harrisburg ranks 34th with Pittsburgh at 56th and Philadelphia at 76th. Florida is the most vulnerable state to automation.

What’s the answer to improving our rankings?

“One of the typical answers is job retraining,” said Miller. “While going from a cashier to a computer programmer would be ideal, that’s something that local governments likely don’t want to fund. But anything that involves human interaction and something that robots can’t do are really the best job skills to look at and where retraining works.”

He said jobs that are safe from automation are teachers and police officers. Miller said in his research, he found there are about 3,000 teachers in the Scranton area.

“Adding more teachers to the job mix would help to lower the ranking,” he said.

Other studies have found similar results. A report by the Brookings Institution earlier this year titled ‘Automation and Artificial Intelligence: How Machines Affect People and Places’ found men are at slightly more risk to have jobs that are likely to become automated, with younger people – ages 16-24 – at most risk.

“For businesses, building computers or developing machines to become cashiers takes a certain about of money and if a rise in the minimum wage or investing in that technology is the choice, investing in the technology is cheaper and more efficient,” said Miller.