Path Home Shows 2016 Show Archive October 2016 Show 1642 Lowell Catlett - The Future of Work

Lowell Catlett - The Future of Work

As automation and robotics increase, it’s important to realize that technology creates more jobs than it destroys.
Lowell Catlett - The Future of Work

Lowell Catlett - The Future of Work

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Lowell Catlett

U.S. Chamber Foundation

Show Details

Show 1642: Lowell Catlett - The Future of Work
Air Date: October 16, 2016



Rob McClendon: Well, in recent years, we’ve seen automation and robotics replace various blue collar labor jobs. But thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, robotic work has begun to expand from the repetitive and the routine, to the cognitive and nonroutine. And that very well could have a significant impact on our workplace, and not just blue collar jobs. I sat down with futurist Lowell Catlett and asked him what challenges such advances could raise.

Lowell Catlett: Well, the challenges is we’re real, one of the big challenges is manufacturing. Manufacturing is now moving from large manufacturing, very costly manufacturing facilities, sometimes overseas, sometimes close to where I live in southern New Mexico, across in Mexico where we had what we call maquiladoras where you can manufacture overseas and bring them back. But now with 3-D printing, you have the ability for a few hundred bucks to have and make things that required several million dollars worth of investments a long time ago. So we’ve got an adjustment in manufacturing where manufacturers are saying, “Hey, maybe it’s better to come back here where we have more control over things.” And so manufacturing is moving away, and it’s getting smaller so you’ve got a real restructuring in manufacturing.

Rob: Let’s talk a little bit about workforce. There’s a concern here in the state, and I know around the nation, about a skills gap that we have more jobs in certain areas that people are not qualified for. And I’m not talking about Ph.D. level degrees; I’m talking about certain specific skills. Is that a concern as we, as our economy matures and as the workforce matures?

Catlett: It’s one of those what we call structural changes that we’re just trying to, trying to catch up on. The good thing is that we’ve got technologies now called augmented reality that were used for years by certain industries. For example, a pilot now is trained and gets lots of hours in a simulator, because the simulators are so good. And then we let them go to the very expensive equipment. So now we’ve got -- and the good and the new science of education says that about a 100 hours in a simulated environment gives you a skill set to operate and do things that would have required a 1,000 hours before -- so now you’ve got the ability to learn faster and mistakes are less costly. So we’ve got a good model that basically says, yeah, we’re short of plumbers right now, we really are. But there’s a technology that instead of five years of apprenticeship with a plumber, we got a technology that can get you rapidly up to speed to be a helper that may shorten that to two years, OK. So I’m very hopeful about it, but man we’re in a structural. And the big one as we all know is, we’ve got and have had for 20 years, almost 60 percent of the students now going to college are female. We’ve got a real underemployment of males because, and I think it’s wonderful for females – they’re now the majority in veterinary schools, the majority in medical schools, the majority in law school, the majority in CPAs, 38 percent in engineering. They’re growing, but at the same time, men are more interested in kind of hands-on. So they’re less inclined to go in the tradition roots and more inclined to, to go into what we would call the trade associations. Well, with new augmented reality, we’ve got a way to rapidly get them a skill set that we never had before, if we can get it done.

Rob: Does our society need to approach work maybe a little bit differently? Because I do understand what you’re saying about females going into the workplace, but I also understand there’s a definite leakage of those females once they get into the workplace just because of family concerns.

Catlett: Sure, sure. It’s we’re, we’re rapidly approaching a situation where we will change the work family dynamic more in the next 20 years than at any time in history. And let me start first with education if I might for just a second and come back to it. Thomas Jefferson, when he founded the University of West Virginia years ago, during the 1800s, wouldn’t allow degrees to be offered because his concept was, if you get a degree you think you’re done, OK. And he wanted people to understand that education is lifelong. But, I also call it the Uber Effect. The Uber, you know, the, the folks that said basically, just punch the button, we know where you are and somebody in their private car will take you somewhere for a few bucks, OK. That’s a fabulous technology, OK. So you start applying Uber technologies to people that want to raise a family but would like to work 20 hours a week, but if that 20 hours a week to have to commute into a traditional work environment or they’re going to be rigidly controlled by a traditional work environment, they may not do it. But wait a minute, that affect says what you’re after from me is the value of my input and my labor, why do you care how that comes about? Why do you care where it’s done or how it’s done? So we start linking ‘em in ways that just drives traditionalists crazy, you know, it’s like you gotta be here. Well, what you’re after is the value of my input and labor. You shouldn’t be concerned how that comes about. So I may work 15 hours a week. And the real trend that’s out there, and its rooting so fast that one futuristic guy by the name of Ray Kurzweil calls it singularity – the point that we will get to when artificial intelligence exceeds humans. He says and thinks that it’ll be probably within, by 2030 or so, another 15 years. Well, wait a minute, if that occurs there’s a whole bunch of people that says, “Well, if that’s the case then there’s no, there, work will be done totally by robots and that humans will not get.” But technology, we’ve moved toward where we went from 70 hours a week to 35 hours a week and now you have, most people have their weekends. If you’re not spending 90 percent of your time to put food on the table, you’ve got a whole bunch of other time to be productive in other ways. And so technology’s always created more jobs than it’s destroyed. And having more leisure time has always created more business opportunities than it’s taken away. Because if you’ve got your weekends free, you want to go to a football game, you want to go to a soccer match, you want to do something. Guess what, you’re gonna buy a Coke. Guess what, you’re gonna drive a car. It creates more jobs. So when we move towards singularity, we may move, my point to come back to bring it all to focus is, we may move to a world where you spend five hours a week earning your living. It’s, it’s just skewed and totally has the opportunity within certainly -- I’m an old man, I’m 66, but probably within my lifetime we’ll get close to it. I don’t know if we’ll ever reach it where we have it totally. But as we move toward it just think of what’s happened in the last 50 years about, we spend virtually nothing trying to get to put food on the table. And you get to do all kinds of other things in reach. So it’s gonna totally push us all to rethink work and family and leisure. Long answer, too. I don’t know the answer, but it’s gonna be totally integrated in the way that we just can’t even think about.

Rob: So it sounds like the next big thing is not only technology but how we relate to that technology.

Catlett: Totally, totally. It’s always been the case. It’s always been the case. And, and technologies don’t necessarily always come with a dark side. None of us is gonna give up the automobile, but 32,000 people die on the roads every year. But that’s why we’re working towards -- guess what, it used to be 56,000 20 years ago. More people died on the highways from automobile accidents than died in the whole Vietnam War in a single year. So it pushed us to passive restraints, air bags, and the next layer is, guess what, totally driven cars. I mean, boy, Tulsa wants it. General Motors says it’s a No. 1 priority, 3,800 miles without a single accident coast-to-coast, totally automatically driven General Motors car last year.

Rob: Certainly could make the commute a little bit different.

Catlett: It will. And you might want to have a beer while you go.

Rob: [Laugh] I never thought of that.

Catlett: [Laugh] So it’s, it’s one of those things that it has s downside, but because that downside was so severe, guess what, we worked on other technologies to make it less severe. And you’re seeing traffic deaths gradually decline because it was a technology that we’re not gonna give up, You know, we’ll put up with it simply because it adds so much value in other ways.

Rob: Now, in 2015, the giant brokerage firm Charles Schwab took automation a step further with robo-advisers, an online service that will pick stocks for you based on your personal financial goals and your stomach for risk. Now, robo-advisers have been tried before, but Schwab made it mainstream with more than $4 billion invested in the firm’s intelligent portfolio offering in its first year.