LIZ SHULER by company

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)

Liz Shuler

Secretary-Treasurer, The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)

While technology like artificial intelligence can lead to efficiencies that can save companies millions of dollars a year, there is the real possibility that it will rapidly displace human workers.

Perhaps nowhere is that more true than in manufacturing. Many of the typically human-based tasks involved in processes like making new cars are increasingly done through automation, and that trend is poised to increase as machines are able to tackle more sophisticated challenges.

By 2030, automation could lead to the loss of 20 million manufacturing jobs worldwide, according to a study by Oxford Economics. But the conversation around worker protections has been largely overshadowed by the excitement of what can be accomplished with the tech.

That’s a problem for Liz Shuler, one of the nation’s most prominent advocates on the issues as the second most powerful official at the nation’s largest labor group, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

“We have to have a worker voice upstream in the innovation process of a company,” she tells Business Insider. “We don't have the policy guardrails in place to make sure that people are taken care of.”

While the COVID-19 outbreak has rearranged priorities, one key focus area for the AFL-CIO is the expansion of apprenticeship programs as an avenue to upskill workers that have been, or are at risk of being, displaced by tech.

Some top manufacturers already have initiatives in place. But more will likely be necessary as an increasing number of companies make investments in automation.

Shuler is also a strong advocate for legislation from Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, which would require that employers give workers advance notice of any new technological updates to operations, and train them accordingly to make sure they can succeed in the workplace of the future.