Workforce Automation: Better Data Needed to Assess and Plan for Effects of Advanced Technologies on Jobs (GAO Report GAO-19-257)

Policy Details

Policy Details

Last Action
Report presented to House Committee on Ways and Means
Date of Last Action
Mar 7 2019
Date Introduced
Mar 7 2019
Publication Date
Jul 26 2019

SciPol Summary

This report responds to Congress’s request for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate how advanced technologies are impacting the US workforce. The GAO surveyed available data to accomplish this goal and concluded that better data are “needed to assess and plan for the effects of advanced technologies on jobs.” The primary finding of this report is that the government is not adequately tracking how advanced technologies are affecting the workforce but that this information could be helpful to the government, employers, and job seekers. For the purposes of this report, the GAO used “advanced technologies” broadly to describe technologies as included in a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, namely artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, autonomous transport, 3D printing, advanced manufacturing, advanced materials, computing power, and internet and cloud technology.

Currently, federal datasets about advanced technologies’ effects on the US workforce are produced by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, none of the available data sets sufficiently explain how or if changes in the workforce are connected to advanced technologies. According to the GAO, more complete data could help both the government, in its efforts to monitor and address workforce changes, and job seekers, as they attempt to adapt to the changing workforce landscape. The GAO recommended that the Department of Labor (DOL) use existing or new data to “systematically track the workforce effects of advanced technologies.” The DOL responded to the GAO that they agree with the recommendation and will work to fill gaps in the existing data on advanced technologies and the US workforce and to continue to research this topic.

Since there are no data that link workforce trends to the adoption of advanced technologies, the GAO used available federal survey data to analyze occupations that Frey and Osborne (2017) identified as susceptible to automation and interviewed sixteen firms. When comparing the jobs susceptible to automation with those industries’ employment changes and job losses, the GAO found no meaningful differences. However, these industries did increase their concentration of tech workers during the GAO’s study period (2010-2016). Adoption of advanced technologies will likely alter workers’ roles, so the GAO highlighted the importance of worker adaptability. Additionally, the GAO pointed out that jobs susceptible to automation are not equally distributed among education levels, racial groups, or geographic areas, so some groups will likely feel more impacts than others resulting from these changes.

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