Larry Williams, Indianapolis native and president of Indy Black Chamber of Commerce, wanted to take control of his destiny. Five years ago he started Rowley Security Firm, a business that offers security solutions in the greater Indianapolis area. In the last year, Williams has noticed a change in his industry. His clients are shifting toward technology for their security needs.
“Tech is taking over,” he said. “I’ve noticed that people would rather use badges, key fobs and cameras to let people into a building or protect their business rather than hiring staff to do more patrolling.”
Instead of shying away from the technological space of security, Williams embraced it. Now, Rowley Security Firm offers bouncers and security guards for an array of businesses as well as cameras, alarm systems and key fobs for keyless entry. Leaning in to the technology changes in his industry has landed him more business and increased his reach across central Indiana.
Unfortunately, not every field like his will be so lucky. In December 2017, Dr. Kristen Broady, Vice Provost of Graduate Studies and Academic Specialization at Kentucky State University, partnered with the Joint Center for Political and Economic studies to author a report on the effects automation and technological advancements will have on some of the most vulnerable communities. The results show what Broady says many already know: People of color will be affected most by these advancements. This leaves these communities without work or the means to pursue education to land a higher paying job.
According to the report, 27.3 percent of African-Americans and 31.2 percent of Latinos are in jobs that are set to be replaced by automation in the next two decades. These job titles include, but are not limited to, cashiers, secretaries and security guards.
In some cases, automation is already happening. Just this month, CEO of Jack in the Box restaurants, Leonard Comma, said his company is considering replacing cashiers with self-ordering kiosks due to the minimum wage amount rising. Locally, stores like Target and Walmart have included more self-checkout kiosks and no longer limit the amount of items customers must have to use them. This allows for more customers to scan and pack their own groceries, eliminating the need for multiple cashiers.
In Marion county, risk for job automation is at 56.78 percent, according to a study conducted at Ball State University. The study does not break down that percentage by race like the Joint Center’s report. However, Broady points out that issues of generational wealth and education disparities often land African-Americans in lower wage jobs regardless of location.
“I think it starts with childhood. Did you go to pre-K? What was your reading score? When you hear of large cities closing public schools, you have a less educated population not by choice, but due to structural and institutional racism as these schools are often closed in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods,” she said.
Broady believes that combating automation begins with thinking about access and education. Mark Fisher, chief policy officer for the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, agrees. He and his colleagues are keeping access at the center of the work that they do in the Chamber of Commerce when addressing job loss due to automation.
“We’re looking at how cities and regions can systematically break down barriers so people can fully access the economy,” he said. “A lot of times when we talk about workforce development, we think about the skills alignment, but there are all these other barriers people face that can limit them.”
Those barriers include reliable transportation, childcare, mental health issues and location of a potential job, something the Joint Center’s report mentions as well.
Last year, 8,600 brick- and-mortar stores closed in the United States according to brokerage firm Credit Sussie. That’s 2,000 more than the number of stores that closed in the 2008 economic crisis. In Indianapolis, stores like Marsh and an HH Greg headquarter office laid off more than 300 employees and closed stores across central Indiana to combat the loss of money due to the success of online retail giants such as Amazon and Walmart. Although large online retail companies are creating jobs in the face of brick-and- mortars cutting them, according to Broady and Fisher, these jobs do not always match the skills the current workforce has. Furthermore, warehouses tend to be further from the city making them inaccessible to someone who does not have reliable transportation.
“The store is right up the street from your house, you can take public transportation to get there,” Broady said. “Amazon’s distribution center, is not right up the street from your house, plus it’s probably more technical than working at the store. You’re dealing with a cash register or customers, not an assembly line. So, you’ve got to get a license to operate forklifts just to apply for the job. The hiring process is more stringent.”
To help Hoosiers who are looking to improve their employability and land a job with higher wages, EmployIndy — a nonprofit with the goal of giving Marion County residents “access to services and training necessary to secure a livable wage and grow in a career” — has come up with a system called “digital badging” which allows Marion County residents to take courses on a variety of topics to set them apart from the competition and build their resume. Courses include conflict resolution and money management.
As for African-American Marion County residents in jobs that are at risk of being eliminated due to automation, Williams and the Black Chamber of Commerce are dedicating this year to ensure the Black community is employable and can find jobs. So far, they’ve partnered with Indiana Construction Roundtable, YouthBuild and the MLK Center to host three job fairs to help people find jobs in the construction industry, which is currently booming in Indianapolis. These fairs led to jobs for 150 people.
Williams says he’s committed to doing even more
“Our focus is to give access to people looking for jobs and get them employed. We especially want to help those trying to reenter the workforce after being incarcerated. We’re trying to give them a platform to get hired and to help Black business in the area grow.”
Anyone interested in joining the Indy Black Chamber of Commerce can visit their website, indybcc.org, for more info.