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News April 26, 2018

Report says U.S. not as prepared as other countries for automation

A report from Swiss technology leader ABB says the U.S. is behind other countries regarding its readiness for an increasingly automated world, placing ninth on a ranking of 25 advanced economies, according to

Researchers graded the countries in three main categories: innovation environment, which included money spent on research and development; school policies, from early curriculums to lifelong learning programs; and public workforce development, such as government-led efforts to retrain workers.

The report showed South Korea, Singapore, Germany and Canada are better prepared for automation largely because of their education systems and labor policies. Although it was acknowledged no country is "genuinely ready" for the technological shift expected to happen during the next three decades, the U.S. was deemed especially underprepared.

Guido Jouret, ABB's chief digital officer, specifically referenced the U.S. educational system, which pushes students toward two- or four-year degrees. Colleges can be slower to keep up with technological changes, and companies will want workers who can adapt to cutting-edge technological developments.

By contrast, Germany encourages technical training, with 60 percent of young adults in the country training as apprentices in manufacturing, IT, banking, construction and other fields compared with 5 percent of Americans.

The Chinese government is updating public education to prioritize creativity rather than acing standardized tests; economists say these efforts are meant to train children and young adults to value independent thinking over regurgitation, which is a trait robots can't yet replicate.

"Take the Southwest Airlines pilot—she did a phenomenal job landing that plane," Jouret said, referencing a recent engine explosion that grabbed international attention. "This is the thing we need people to be good at—how to cope with the unexpected."

Although U.S. leaders have praised apprenticeships as a way to help prepare workers for an increasingly technological world, economists say the U.S. would benefit more from continuous learning.

In Singapore, citizens were given cash in "individual learning accounts" they can use to cover job training courses at any stage in their careers. In Germany, lawmakers have proposed "employment insurance," which would help workers pay for upgrading their skills during their lives.

The U.S. scores higher on research-and-development spending, which involves the dollars that fund advancements, devoting 2.79 percent of gross domestic product to the effort, which places the country fourth behind South Korea (4.23 percent), Japan (3.28 percent) and Germany (2.88 percent).


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