The United States lags behind some other countries when it comes to readiness for an increasingly automated world, placing ninth on a ranking of 25 advanced economies, according to a new report from technology giant ABB and The Economist Intelligence Unit. On the other hand, South Korea, Singapore, Germany and Canada, for example, are better prepared to smoothly integrate intelligent automation into their economies, thanks largely to their education systems and labor policies, the authors of the “Automation Readiness Index (ARI): Who Is Ready for the Coming Wave of Innovation?” report explain.


Researchers graded nations on three main categories: their innovation environment, which included money spent on research and development; school policies, from early curricula to lifelong learning programs; and public workforce development, such as government-led efforts to retrain workers. The researchers found that while no country is “genuinely ready” for the technological shift expected to displace millions of workers worldwide in the next 30 years, the U.S. is “especially underprepared” for the jobs of the future.


Guido Jouret, ABB’s chief digital officer, singled out the U.S. education system, which pushes students toward two- or four-year college degrees. The problem, he says, is colleges tend to be less nimble when it comes to keeping up with technological changes, and companies will seek workers who can adapt to cutting-edge developments, a Washington Post article reports.


With that report’s findings in mind, I was interested to also read that an independent task force from the Council on Foreign Relations writes in a new report that although the world is in the midst of a “profound transformation” in the nature of work as smart machines and other new technologies remake how people do their jobs and pursue their careers, the U.S. has not stepped up to meet these new challenges. The report authors note that rapid technological change, heightened global competition, and growing barriers to opportunity have weakened the link between work and rewards. While new opportunities will likely be created to replace lost jobs, American workers face substantial obstacles in acquiring the education and skills needed to prosper in a more automated work environment, according to the task force.


“Even with the reasonably strong job growth of recent years, the divide between those succeeding and those struggling is growing, regional disparities are increasing, economic inequality is rising and public anger is deepening political divisions,” writes the task force. “The country’s future as a stable, strong nation willing and able to devote the necessary resources and attention to meeting international challenges depends on rebuilding the links among work, opportunity and economic security.” A failure to address the nation’s workforce challenge “will increase the pressures for retrenchment that are already causing the U.S. to back away from global leadership.”


The task force’s report, “The Work Ahead: Machines, Skills, and U.S. Leadership in the Twenty-First Century,” explains that, “to prosper and to lead, the United States needs to find new ways to meet the workforce challenges of the twenty-first century.” Toward that goal, the authors recommend members of federal, state and local government, as well as companies in the private sector: help Americans take advantage of the opportunities posed by technology; strengthen the link between education and employment; spur job creation, especially for better-paying jobs; make the skill demands of jobs more transparent; provide better help for displaced workers; and improve the benefits and returns from work for all Americans.


I was particularly interested in the report’s final recommendation: Understand that the problems will not be solved by Washington alone.


“To underscore the urgency of the task of building the workforce of the future, the president and the nation’s governors should create a National Commission on the U.S. Workforce to carry out research, share best practices and conduct public outreach on workforce challenges,” the authors write. “This should be the start of an ongoing effort to put workforce issues at the center of the national conversation.”


What are your thoughts on increasing automation in the workplace? Are workers prepared for this transition? If not, what actions can be taken to remedy the situation?