SPECIAL REPORT: The Great Reset

Though technology can sometimes replace people in jobs, in some cases locally it’s increasing productivity of local businesses without making humans obsolete.

Throughout the country new technology and software developments have resulted in a steady decline of middle class positions such as secretaries, paralegals, meter readers and others. According to The Associated Press more than a million secretaries disappeared from the job market from 2000 to 2010.

These types of positions are being replaced by machines that can compute and store data faster, more efficiently and cheaper than any worker. Locally, however the impact of technology on the job market hasn’t been as severe in several industries.

While technology has improved, there are just as many workers in Marietta’s Water and Wastewater department as there were several years ago, said Kim Nohe, utilities administrator with the department.

“We have seven total employees, three of which are meter readers,” Nohe said. “We’ve implemented some new technologies and software over the past few years but it hasn’t caused any of our employees to lose a position.”

Part of the city of Marietta’s meters are now using radio transmitters allowing employees to simply drive past them in order to obtain a reading.

“New technology allows us to make our jobs simpler and expedite the rate at which we operate,” Nohe said. “This process isn’t taking away our jobs but rather allowing us to do them more efficiently.”

Efficiency is key for organizations and industries going forward in a world where new technology aims to lower costs and increase productivity.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is responsible for nearly 5,000 employees and maintains one of the largest interstate systems in the country.

David Rose, ODOT’s District 10 public information officer, stressed the importance of maintaining a balance between employees and new technology.

“We are a public agency that is funded with state gas tax dollars, so our goal is always to operate as efficiently as possible,” he said. “If that requires the implementation of new software to go along with our workforce then we believe that is the best course of action.”

Recently the department introduced a new piece of software called Safetyanalyst, which allows the organization to more easily track and sort large amounts of data.

“It provides us with tools that help us identify and prioritize areas that are unsafe and need to be improved,” Rose said.

Although the Safetyanalyst software helps sort and manage data on problem areas it’s the workforce for ODOT that keeps things running smoothly.

“We are a very tangible organization. You can see us out plowing the roads in the winter and maintaining them when something needs fixed,” Rose said. “Technology doesn’t drive those plows or fix those roads. It takes a great deal of manpower to handle the tasks before us.”

Health care is another field that is rapidly growing and constantly integrating new forms of technology into the workplace.

“Technology is a part of everything we do on a daily basis,” said Jennifer Offenberger, director of marketing and public relations for the Memorial Health System.

An electronic health record has recently been started, allowing doctor’s offices from the hospital easy access to patient’s medical information.

“Advances in technology allow us to save more lives and care for patients in ways we never thought possible,” Offenberger said. “We don’t see the development of new technology as a threat here.”

New software is changing procedure and the way work is done, but it isn’t costing Memorial Health System employees jobs, she said.

“If anything we view it as opening up opportunities for people to help develop and implement these new technologies.” Offenberger said. “Our goal always is and will be to streamline the process so that our patients continue to get the best level of care possible.”

One local business has managed to survive and thrive in this age of technology by sticking with the methods it was founded upon.

Brad Smith is the owner of Sewah Studios, a local business that specializes in the creation of historical markers. Smith said he has struggled to balance the growing need for technology in modern industry with the company’s loyalty to creating a hand crafted product.

“Most companies similar to ours have switched to plastics and laser generating designs in the hopes of cutting costs or increasing productivity,” he said. “We have been doing it the same since the ’50s and our customers have grown accustomed to our unique touch.”

Smith admits that technology does play a role in his business, but it takes a backseat to the 15 workers he employs.

“It makes a huge difference in the accounting, planning and office type of stuff,” Smith said. “We understand that technology is always evolving and can be an important supplement to our company, but we also realize that it could be the death of our business.”