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With Saturday afternoon’s graduation ceremony, Lake Holcombe High School seniors will grab their diplomas and start the long process of finding where in the workplace they can get a job. Graduating seniors at other Chippewa County schools will soon follow their own paths.

With the increase in automation in the workplace, they will need to be resourceful to land jobs and then to keep working.

“Try your darndest to prepare,” said David L. Schaffer, an associate professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. “You want to stay flexible.”

Volunteer and be the first to try something new, he said. That way if that technology is adopted, you will be the first in line.

“Every time we change, there’s always a question of whether this is better,” said Tim Tewalt, program director for Chippewa Valley Technical College in industrial mechanics.

“I think we’re better in many ways.”

Farmers continue to turn to automation, and the industry is exploring using more robots as labor issues surface, Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel said.

“Automation is going to become more prevalent,” he said during a May 10 stop in Bloomer.

For example, cherry orchards use machines to shake and harvest cherries from trees. “They are looking for anything that can reduce the need for individuals to do hard work in ag,” Brancel said.

Times, jobs change

Schaffer said in the late 1800s more than 80 percent of U.S. residents worked on farms. Many had jobs raising or taking care of horses.

Schaffer said you could not have imagined then the dramatic shift of jobs away from farming.

Almost 100 years ago almost no one went to college to get jobs, Tewalt said.

Today, automation has made it possible to produce products that could not have been made before. He said you see it in medical devices, GPS units and tractors.

Tewalt said automation has led to new jobs, including those in information technology.

“The demand for technical education is just huge,” Tewalt said.

In the past, Tewalt said, people went to a university and studied without looking at a placement report to see how many jobs are in that field.

As a country, Tewalt said, we gave up a critical eye and asked: “How will I make a living at this?”

Generally speaking, he said there are a lot of good degrees available to pursue. “You just have to make sure the market in that area needs that degree,” he said.

Tewalt said many older people are going back to school. He said his father-in law, at age 65, decided to become a real estate agent, which he successfully did.

Change in tactics

Brancel said he was told by people working for Silver Spring Foods in Eau Claire that they used to be able to hold a job fair and attract workers that way. Now, those job fairs don’t generate as many workers.

He said he hears from many businesses in Wisconsin that they would hire more people if they could find candidates qualified for the work.

Brancel rejected the notion that automation has led to the overproduction of milk because it encourages larger herds. He said there are other factors having an effect, including better cow care with balanced food rations and with better barn ventilation.

“It’s almost a scientific marvel,” Brancel said of what’s being done by farmers.

While automation has been developed in the research level, Schaffer said it actually has been creeping into actual work places fairly slowly.

Schaffer contends that automation, in many cases, opens up new doors to jobs. For example, no one in past years ever had a dream of becoming a video game designer.

But Schaffer said while automation can benefit society, it does cause uncertainty among individuals.

“My daughter is searching for a career, and she’s filled with uncertainty,” he said.

He said people holding jobs will have to constantly learn and switch when the technology does.

Jobs have changed fast in a lot of previous eras, he said.

“All things will eventually change,” he said.


(1) comment

CF fan in EC

Very timely reporting (as usual) from the all-seeing Stetzer. Tewalt raises a good point re: critical thinking. In the context he has here, it seems to imply that we should try to avoid anti-automation fearfulreactions. Fine, but I'd add two caveats - critical thinking means you put aside hopes and wishful thinking and don't over-weight the positive any more than the negative. Even so, automation is going to be a sucker-punch. All the economic big dogs do say that the coming automation disruptions will be far larger than the Industrial Revolution, the exodus from family farms, or basically anything we've been through before. Except T-Rex. Tewalt should not (can not) sweep that under the positive thinking rug. And technology and the profit motive can certainly lead to irresponsible and openly destructive innovation. Genetic modifications are in many ways true horror stores, yet there is no attempt to put the breaks on. Critical thinking works both ways, and has a moderating effect, shows stewardship rather than short-term thinking and greed. Tewalt can give this message equally to fearful workers and dollar-hungry CEOs alike. Finally, as duly elected city-wide EC Council member Tewalt has a fab opportunity to not only talk this talk, but walk the walk when in Chambers. The star struck tourism mania with the attendant emphasis on discretionary income, maximizes every EC citizen's vulnerability to ups and downs of the economy. Council could definitely use some of this critical thinking. Rather than modeling age-diverse and possibility-diverse thinking exclusivity Council puts all eggs in the Millennial, Tourism, OMG-Justin-Vernon-Gotta-Grammy basket. What could possibly be more irresponsible or show less critical thinking. Name 2 things more volatile and unstable than the music and tourism industries. I sure can't. (Congrats to CF for a more balanced approach that is yielding real grown-up jobs and community-wide results, and for having it's head on pretty darn straight most of the time. Saaa-LUTE !)

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