Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ohio researchers predict the most critical job skills as AI gains traction

A man wearing a black hard hat and a bright orange vest looks down. He stands amid scaffolding.
Clem Onojeghuo
The research uses machine learning to break down occupations by job skills.

Technology is changing Ohio’s workforce. Recent developments in artificial intelligence, automation and machine learning have raised questions about the long-term sustainability of some jobs.

Ohio University researchers decided to use that very same technology to figure out which occupations are growing and which are declining in the state.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics currently determines occupational outlook by analyzing trends in specific occupations and making predictions ten years into the future. OU researchers approached their forecasting differently: they used machine learning to look not just at occupations, but at the skills used in more than 700 Ohio jobs.

Researcher and rural economic development professor at OU’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service, Jason Jolley, said the approach can help to determine which occupational skills will be most useful in the future.

“We can determine, with some degree of accuracy, whether occupations that require a certain set of skills or activities are likely to decline or grow,” he said.

The results

Jobs that consist heavily of physical activities are more vulnerable to decline – especially those that have repetitive motions, Jolley said.

That means work like data entry is more at risk for automation. The occupation has already declined in recent years, and Jolley said his research doesn’t show that changing anytime soon.

"It's another tool that people can use to get a better understanding of where we might direct our training efforts."
Jason Jolley, professor of rural economic development at Ohio University

On the other side of the spectrum, jobs that tended to consist more of critical thinking skills, interpersonal communication and design all had more potential for growth. Jolley said that’s led more jobs to requiring higher levels of education.

“So even in what we might consider middle wage jobs, or jobs that allow people to earn an average income, there are increasing requirements that people have technical skills, sometimes credentials, sometimes associate degrees,” Jolley said.

What’s next?

By looking specifically at the underlying sets of skills in each job, Jolley said the approach could better benefit higher education institutions and job training programs.

Barring any major market disruptions – like a new industry coming to town or a manufacturing plant closing down – Jolley said the information can guide workforce development.

“It's another tool that people can use to get a better understanding of where we might direct our training efforts,” he said.

So, for those in occupations seeing decline, Jolley said they should think critically about how long they plan to work in those fields and consider what skills they should develop for the future.

“What can I do with the finances I have available, with the training programs that are available, to better take the skills that I have and translate them into occupations that might be projected to grow?”

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.