LV threatened by “race to the bottom” mentality, report says

Vdara Relay robots, Fetch and Jett (Vdara website)
Vdara Relay robots, Fetch and Jett (Vdara website)

The short-sighted mentality of Southern Nevada’s business and political leaders has Las Vegas perched precariously on the edge of economic collapse when the inevitable invasion of robots swoop in for our jobs.

That’s the finding in a report on the Future of Work, a study from the National Association of Workforce Boards and the Bertlesmann Foundation, an “independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC with a transatlantic perspective on global challenges,” according to its website.

Like climate change, it’s no longer a question of whether the Artificial Intelligence invasion is coming, but rather, how devastating will it be to low-skilled, low-wage workers performing the repetitive tasks that are vulnerable to automation? 

And like climate change, there’s still time to turn the ship around, say the experts.

The report says Las Vegas has the highest concentration of potentially automatable jobs — two out of three — but lacks the planning and retraining to steer workers into sustainable positions, such as designing, programming and maintaining the bots.

“The space to test innovative future of work solutions in Las Vegas absolutely exists,” said Jeff Brown, Future of Work & Automation Program Manager at the Bertelsmann Foundation. “In order to be successful, however, Las Vegas needs a political leader to step up and champion the issue, and to ensure that policymakers prioritize long-term sustainability over short-term gain.”

Despite efforts to diversify the economy, in 2017 seven of the top ten Southern Nevada employers were casino companies, according to the report. The area’s average wage of $874 a week is $155 less than the national average of $1029, according to the report.

Among the challenges identified in the report:

  • Workers settle into available low-wage jobs instead of investing time and money to obtain higher-paying positions
  • Leaders lack understanding of the workforce and seek to place workers in any available job.  “Policy discussions ignore crucial issues such as job quality, wages, inequality, housing and transportation.” the report says.
  • Quality of life issues related to traffic, lack of cultural institutions and education make it difficult to attract and retain mid-and high-level workers and their families.
  • Retraining  workers is not a priority for many businesses. “Employers are not given incentives to invest in skills development or apprenticeships at the low-end of the labor market,” says the report.
  • “Policymakers and business focus on taxes, incentives and land prices when it comes to attracting new industries and creating jobs,” says the report.  “Las Vegas has a hard time escaping its low tax (and low skill) reputation.”
  • Southern Nevada’s  “race to the bottom” mentality curtails long-term planning and workforce development
  • Nevada’s educational system is outdated.  “K-12 is not preparing students for careers in STEM. Seventy percent of students at College of Southern Nevada need remedial education.” 
  • Vulnerable populations such as those who speak other languages and workers in jobs vulnerable to automation have little support other than unemployment benefits and disability.
  • Southern Nevada’s demographics create a divide between retirees who enjoy the low-tax environment and young people who desire education, training and jobs.

Among the valley’s strengths:

  • Business is booming. There will likely be lots of jobs (perhaps automated) to go around.
  • Location, location location.  Southern Nevada is well-positioned as a hub, has low-taxes, a diverse workforce and it’s close to California without being California.
  • “Select policymakers” – Workforce Development, Regional Transportation Commission and LV Metro Chamber of Commerce – are aware of the emerging threat and poised for action.

The recommendations for Southern Nevada’s Brave New World:

  • Build a labor market information system to help  workers to future-proof their jobs by connecting them with resources and jobs that are not vulnerable to automation.
  • Structure community development so that it priorities education and ties it to career exploration.
  • Investigate international solutions.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Dana Gentry
Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana is the mother of four adult children, three cats, three dogs and a cockatoo.


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