9 Investigates

9 investigates: Automation treatens thousands of North Carolina jobs

STATESVILLE, N.C. — New research suggests North Carolina is at risk of losing thousands of jobs over the next decade.

Eyewitness News investigated what's being done to prepare local workers and workplaces after the study from N.C. State University shows that the rise of automation could impact more than 60 percent of current jobs.

Ray Goodwin traded in his career in construction to pursue his passion: computers. As he was transitioning he noticed new technology was hurting his colleagues in the concrete business.

"You didn't need the number of laborers that you need to actually pour the concrete if you were willing to pay the money for the technological leaps and bounds," said Goodwin.

Advances in automation, combined with the economy, put construction among the top industries in North Carolina to lost jobs between 2002 and 2015. The findings are part of Dr. Mike Walden's research on the rise of automation. He teaches economics at N.C. State.

"We are going to see entire occupations wiped out," he told Channel 9.

It's called technological unemployment and Walden found 61 percent of occupations in the state are vulnerable. His research found potential job losses of up to 1.2 million in North Carolina -- that is five times more than the 2008 recession.

At the top of list of the 20 most vulnerable jobs are food service workers, as more kiosks and smart phone apps can take your order.

But Walden also found white collar jobs like accountants and auditors are at risk.

"We are now seeing, for example, legal firms able to download computer programs that will do all the background research for their cases so that will throw out of work thousands of paralegals," Walden said.

Walden conducted the research for N.C. State's Institute for Emerging Issues. It's touring the state to show local leaders how many jobs they could lose.

Their first stop was in Statesville and Eyewitness News asked the mayor if his city is prepared.

"It's difficult to be prepared because the technology is changing so rapidly," Mayor Costi Kutteh said.

The research prompted the city to create an innovation committee to come up with ways to stave off major job loss. When asked what could happen if the city didn't act immediately, Kutteh said, "The answer is, we'll fail. We'll die."

The mayor points to Security Central/AlarmSouth, a home security company in Statesville that's expanding but because of new technology, it can handle more calls with fewer employees.

The company is using a new communication system that sends an electronic message to 911 much faster than an operator can dictate the message over the phone.

"The more we can do with automation, the more we can remove the operator from those phone calls, the better we are," said the company’s general manager Mark McCall.

Managers said they'll always need operators, just at a lower rate.

Walden said these type of changes could force thousands of people to go back to school, the way Goodwin did, to better their chances of staying in the job market.

Walden said if you're hoping to find a career that's less likely to be replaced by technology then you should consider becoming a health care worker, teacher or police supervisor.

The Institute for Emerging Issues has rankings of the most and least vulnerable jobs, and you can find them here.