Future jobs in the Tampa Bay Area: Prepare for change driven by robots, tech, etc.

As companies moved jobs overseas to cut costs years ago, and then brought them back to provide better service in more recent times, outsourcing became an ugly word to describe what not to do in corporate America. But tomorrow’s job threat is potentially much closer to home with smart computers and responsive technology in robots that can do almost anything a human can do.

The transition is already underway. Computers with touch screen menus in restaurants. Robots performing repetitious tasks. And technology-enhanced cars helping prevent us from having accidents.

The trend is only expected to accelerate. In the not too distant future, cars will be talking to each other -- and driving themselves. Refrigerators will be programmed to order more eggs and other food as personal supplies dwindle. And you may have your news reported by robots (with the help of a few editors).

“It’s up to individual residents to understand the world is changing,” says Chelsea Collier, an Austin-based consultant and founder of Digi.City, a web platform exploring advancing technology and how it will affect cities. “You can run from it or you can run toward it.”

If you are wondering whether your chosen career will support you in the future, consider this: 54 percent of the U.S. workforce isn’t very confident their careers are even likely to exist in 20 years, according to Freelancing in America 2017, a study by Upwork and Freelancers Union.

One way to find out about future opportunities is by looking at employment projections from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. In Hillsborough County, the occupations expected to have the most new jobs through 2024 are: customer service representatives, retail salespersons, fast food preparation/servers, registered nurses, and accountants and auditors. Other careers that made the top 100 included construction, janitors/maids, lawyers and paralegals, teachers and teacher assistants, childcare, software developers, assorted health careers, financial and secretarial.

Topping the list of declining careers in Hillsborough County through 2024, in order, are: motor vehicle electronics installers and repairers, where a 36.8 decline is forecast, and switchboard operators, photographic process workers/processing machine operators, lathe and turning machine tool setters and operators, and postal service mail sorters and processors. Also in the top 50: computer operators, funeral attendants, floral designers, typists, reporters, travel agents and tool and die makers.

Jobs that aren't going away

In general, experts say safe careers involve human creativity and service. “Only a human being is going to pay your business,” says Kwang-Cheng Chen, professor in the University of South Florida’s Department of Electrical Engineering. “How to take care of the human being is always the #1 job.”

A good example is the design field. “You definitely want a human being to help you design your house,” he points out.

“Manual, routine-type labor is easily replaced,” says Ginger Clark, Hillsborough Community College’s VP of Academic Affairs, who oversees workforce training. “You can’t replace the creativity and the problem solving of the human.”

“That human element will never go away. Machines can never replace sitting together in a room and what happens when humans come together to do something,” agrees Collier, who says advancing wireless technology will enable a refrigerator to reorder eggs.

That said, the human may not be physically present in the future. “It may be a virtual reality,” she says. “There’s still a person there.”

It’s likely that person will be better educated. “It doesn’t have to be four-year degree educated,” Collier says. “You don’t have to have an IQ off the charts to participate in a digital economy.”

There must be willingness to up-skill and retool as technology evolves, however. “That’s what’s going to set you apart in the future workplace,” Clark asserts.

“As long as people are OK to adapt, I think any career in technology would be safe,” adds Mike Burnett, regional account executive for Tampa’s Northern Technologies Group, Inc.

As an employer, a potential employee’s attitude is even more important than his or her skillset: They should be willing to do new things.

“We’re always looking for sort of a go-getter attitude,” Burnett explains.

Losers in the technology job shuffle are likely to include restaurant workers, those who work in the more automated aspects of the banking industry, and doctors’ offices impacted by telemedicine, Clark says. 

“It will be those individuals who are in your service occupations and entry-level support type workers,” she says.

They will need to retool and up-skill. “I hope they’re really looking at what’s happening,” she says. “This may sound a little hokey. I also know somehow we’ve always found a place for individuals, regardless of their skillset.”

Educators at the forefront 

HCC already is working on that retraining. “We can’t just hire new people to do all these jobs,” Clark says.

For example, intelligent transportation systems are being worked into the training program. “We are anticipating this and are trying to be proactive in offering this specific training,” Clark says.

HCC is partnering on a Connected Vehicle Pilot Deployment Program involving the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority. Funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation, the program is part of a national effort to promote CV technologies.

“The modules that we’re installing in the cars are going to be communicating with their corresponding module on the expressway,” Clark explains.

HCC is reworking its building and construction trade coursework as well. “As we move to both smart homes and smart buildings, those individuals are going to have a new skillset, which will be understanding how to work on those wireless-based systems.” she says.

Manufacturing careers are no longer just manual assembly jobs. “Automation is a big part of what’s happening in manufacturing,” she continues. “What we’re starting to emphasize to our student is the ability to master the computer program that goes along with the automated system.”

Instead of assembly, they’ll need to troubleshoot the system, she says.

The welding program is prime for changes too. HCC is preparing to introduce robotic welding into the curriculum, probably in the fall of 2018, Clark says.

Vocational jobs are changing, but they have potential. Nearly 90 percent of the graduates are placed upon graduation, Clark points out.

“I think they will continue to require up-skilling, but I think they are pretty safe for the foreseeble future,” she adds.

Creating a new normal

The demand for higher skill levels is here. “College is not higher education anymore,” asserts USF's Chen. “The new jobs, generally speaking, require more educational background.”

He’s already seen a shift in the engineering field, with engineers frequently returning to school for additional training. “If you are trying to do research and development, engineering, a master’s degree is already the minimum,” he says.

As an employer and founder of Inprocomm in Taiwan, which was acquired in 2004, he hired only engineers with master’s degrees.

When jobs that can be automated are automated, some careers we may think are safe may not be. “I do not say that the [computer] programmer job is good,” Chen says. “The computer is going to be able to write a program by itself.”

Computers also are being used to auto-generate the news. Lots of Chinese news is already compiled this way, he points out.

“Reporters still have value,” he adds. “Some portions of the reporter’s job can be replaced.”

In the automotive industry, mobile phones connected to cars already are trying to anticipate where the drivers will go – and provide traffic data, he points out. Now it’s recommended they be equipped to communicate to reduce accidents.

When 4G mobile technology is replaced with 5G, possibly in four to five years, there will be even more data that can be utilized by interactive GPS. 

While smart vehicles and robots all require an efficient communication networking infrastructure that doesn’t exist yet, 5G and other technologies are expected to resolve the current “bottleneck,” Chen says.

He expects the problem to be resolved in 10 years, with major change occurring after that. 

In 10 to 20 years, we’ll need less people to build garage and parking lots because we won’t need them, he says. We won’t need a taxi driver because we can call an autonomous vehicle to drive us.

Gearing up for tomorrow

Folks charged with helping people find jobs, CareerSource Tampa Bay and CareerSource Pinellas, are gearing up for change as well. They ramped up a regional annual summit to a national conference in late 2017.

“While in Washington, D.C. during the National Association of Workforce Boards conference, we had heard there was a need to bring business together with workforce, economic development, and educational leaders to discuss the current and future landscape of the workforce,” says conference spokeswoman, Kristin Dailey, Ph.D. “With a focus on technology and artificial intelligence, we partnered with NAWB to make this event a reality.”

The event isn’t for career seekers. Instead it targets employers, workforce professionals, economic developers, and educators. The agenda for The Voice of Business: National Conference on Industry Sector Growth Strategies, held Dec. 7-9 in St. Petersburg, included a segment on the impact of automation and robotics in the workplace – as well as breakout sessions on technology, healthcare, manufacturing/aviation, and financial and shared services.

The tech sector grows

Burnett expects the Tampa Bay area will see an increase in wireless engineers, project managers and related construction workers. As the area converts to 5G technology, there will be a need for more construction workers, in part because 5G operates on a shorter wavelength. 

“You’ll likely see more of those towers going up as 5G becomes prevalent,” Burnett says.

But wireless engineers will need to continue to adapt with changing technologies. “They’re gong to be working on 5G, 6G,” he points out. “It’s always changing. You ... have to adapt with that change.”

He points out engineers are used to that. “They’ll learn something, and if that technology becomes obsolete, they’re going to have to learn something else,” he says. “The engineering mindset is always jumping into new things, learning new things.”

Another hot career field is cybersecurity. “For the first time, it’s become a real pain for huge organizations and small ones alike,” he says. “They don’t care of you’re a mom and pop shop. If they get in, they can get access to any of that personal information. That’s what they’re after.”

As businesses gravitate toward cloud technology, they’ll be more need for cloud networking, cloud architect and related personnel needed for online services in the next five to 10 years. “It’s not perfect by any means, yet it’s one of those big areas those companies are focusing all of their investment in,” Burnett explains. “If they truly have 100 percent cloud environment, they’ll need a good network to support all of that.”

Ultimately, individuals in tech careers need to adapt to changes too. Automation will take some jobs and create new ones.

“You still need people there to manage whatever system it is,” he says. “Even if certain functions become automated, the manager of that is still key. Until AI [artificial intelligence] gets to the level it needs to be, you’re always going to need people there.”

The good news is Burnett believes Tampa is a good place to be. He’s already witnessed what he describes as an intensification of tech personnel and resources here. “They’re moving their IT organizations to Tampa,” he says.

No career unaffected

By now you may have recognized you’ve got to regroup. But even if you’ve chosen a safe profession, don’t expect things to remain the same. “There are no static occupations any more,” Clark cautions. “Everything has become so dynamic.”

Global competition is likely to remain. “The one [person] that is going to compete with your job is probably not in the United States,” says Chen, adding they may be in Taiwan or possibly Silicon Valley.

In the end, how do you secure your future? Demonstrate your commitment to learning and bring value to your organization. “One of the primary ways you can do this is by bringing new knowledge ... back into the company,” Clark says.

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Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. Now a wife and mother, Cheryl discovered her love of writing as a child when she became enthralled with Nancy Drew mysteries. She earned her bachelor's degree in Journalism and Sociology from Loyola University in New Orleans. While working at Loyola's Personnel Office, she discovered her passion for helping others find jobs. A Miami native, Cheryl moved to the Temple Terrace area in 1985 to work for the former Tampa Tribune