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Nearly 1 million South Florida workers face automation. Here’s who will survive.

Whether by bot or by byte, nearly 1 million South Florida jobs are at risk of being automated, according to a new report from consulting giant McKinsey.

But even as some jobs disappear, others will be created. And the survivors could be left better off.

McKinsey estimates that the Miami metropolitan statistical area (MSA), which includes Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, will likely see about 23 percent of its total workforce displaced by automation by 2030 — or 761,000 South Florida jobs.

That matches the national rate of anticipated displacement.

Job displacements will not happen through robotic rapture. Instead, McKinsey says, shrinkage will occur through attrition and reduced hiring. Either a job will simply become obsolete or, more likely, end up being performed by a software program.

Most at risk are the area’s army of low-skilled, low-wage workers. McKinsey estimates that the occupational categories likely to see the highest quantity of job displacement in South Florida are office support (168,000), food service (106,000), and customer service and sales (100,000) jobs.

Office jobs, in particular, stand to be hardest hit, McKinsey says, based on historical trends.

“Offices once populated by armies of administrative assistants, research librarians, and payroll and data clerks now run with leaner support teams and more digital tools. Administrative assistants, bill collectors, and bookkeepers lost a combined 226,000 jobs from 2012 to 2017,” the report states.

Locally, law and finance could be most affected, according to Alfred Sanchez, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. He says he’s been meeting with law firms who say large banks like Chase are introducing software that can read contracts— a task younger lawyers often do, he said.

“They’re saying we could have 320,000 billable hours evaporate from us tomorrow,” he said.

Younger and older workers — of which South Florida has plenty — are likely to be especially affected, McKinsey says. Among the former group, traditional entry-level positions are being eliminated, forcing younger workers to spend more time in school — or, in other cases, placing them permanently along the workforce’s margins.

Meanwhile, older job holders forced out of the workforce will have a more difficult time “re-skilling” into new, available positions.

Still, South Florida may be better positioned than other major metro areas to roll with the coming workforce revolution. McKinsey projects net job growth of 11 percent for the area — ahead of New York (10%), Los Angeles (7%) and Chicago (6%), though still behind Austin (30%), Orlando (24%), and Dallas (22%).

Nationally, McKinsey’s projections are rosiest for growth jobs it defines in the following ways: personal services for affluent individuals, healthcare for aging populations and jobs involving creativity and empathy.

Among these jobs, South Florida outperforms: McKinsey projects growth among health professionals — meaning medical professions requiring an advanced degree — climbing 51 percent. That is followed by science, engineering, and technology professionals, a category expected to grow 37 percent in the region.

Among South Florida’s three counties, this will translate to net job growth of 15.4% for Palm Beach, 10.4% for Broward, and 9.7% for Miami-Dade. And as is the case nationally, the jobs will tend to break down into either higher- or lower-paying categories — though this means a further hollowing out of the middle class.

In an interview, Ignacio Felix, a McKinsey partner, said Palm Beach is already benefiting from wealthy professionals leaving the Northeast.

“We are seeing an influx of private equity into Palm Beach, which is likely to trigger significant growth there,” he said.

Still, as a mature “megacity,” McKinsey says South Florida should not expect the same job growth being forecast for “high-growth hubs” like Austin, Dallas and Orlando.

“Any places experiencing some turnaround — there tends to be an integrated response from government, business and education leaders,” said McKinsey partner and report co-author Andre Dua. “There’s not one single playbook. Instead, it’s a question of key stakeholders coming together and committing to putting the economy on a different trajectory.”

Some of the largest companies are already anticipating the trend. Walmart recently began installing “Bossa Nova” shelf-scanning robots on its floors to allow associates to interact more frequently with customers. It has also set up Walmart academies, including one in South Florida, to keep workers’ skills fresh.

We view the future of retail in a Walmart store as being people powered, and tech enabled,” said Phillip Keene, Walmart director of communications.

Similarly, Amazon recently announced it would begin investing hundreds of millions into re-training its employees for the changes that automation could bring.

Sanchez says that while the Greater Miami Chamber has begun to put together a response to the coming challenge, it is one with profound implications.

“It’s truly revolutionary,” he said. “In the past, technology made everything else — made jobs or labor — easier to do, so employees could be more productive. But [these technologies] are replacing the employee.”

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