Best of the States

Latest

The Future of Work: US adding factory jobs, but there’s a catch

In this Thursday, May 25, 2017 photo, an assembly line laborer works across from a collaborative robot, right, at the Stihl Inc. manufacturing facility in Virginia Beach, Va. At the plant human workers are interspersed with computers and robotics that require trained technicians to service and maintain while reducing the company's need for pursuing traditional manual laborers. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

AP_17212064438322_1024.jpg

It’s well-known that many U.S. factory jobs have been shipped overseas or automated out of existence. What’s not so well-known is that American manufacturing is no longer shrinking. Factories have actually added nearly a million jobs in the past seven years.

But the jobs have changed: The new ones generally require advanced education, technological know-how or specialized skills to survive in what are now highly automated workplaces. Yet training opportunities are limited, particularly for older workers.

Cincinnati correspondent Dan Sewell and photographer John Minchillo pinpointed this uneasy mix of desperate laid-off workers and spreading automation in southwestern Ohio and proposed an immersive multimedia story to illuminate the trend for readers and viewers.

Ap 17212064474816 1024V
Herbie Mays pauses during an interview at the Ohio Means Jobs employment assistance offices in Cincinnati, Apil 14, 2017. Mays voted for Donald Trump, drawn to his pledges to revitalize manufacturing in the United States. Trump’s election, though, “was too late to help us,” Mays said. “If you don’t keep up with the times, you’re out of luck,” he said. – AP PHOTO / JOHN MINCHILLO

The Cincinnati team found the perfect character to help illustrate the story: Herbie Mays, laid off from 3M after three decades but untrained in the technology needed to land one of the new jobs in manufacturing.

“If you don’t keep up with the times, you’re out of luck,” Mays said.

It quickly became clear there was a story to tell not just about Ohio, but also about manufacturing worldwide and how the U.S. is falling behind other countries in training enough workers to fill the high-tech jobs it needs to retain a strong manufacturing base.

Washington business writer Chris Rugaber joined Minchillo and freelance videographer Tom Sampson at a factory in Virginia and supplied exclusive manufacturing statistics from his own source-building. Video-first reporter Mike Householder traveled from his base in Detroit to visualize the story of Mays and his role (or lack thereof) in the future of manufacturing.

It quickly became clear there was a story to tell not just about Ohio, but also about manufacturing worldwide.

Yuri Kageyama, Koji Sasahara and Koje Ueda in Tokyo provided text, stills and video for a story about Japan’s embrace of robotics. Jan Olsen and David Keyton offered cross-format feeds from Denmark,while Larry Fenn and Maureen Linke worked up graphics based on Rugaber’s data.

Sewell, in addition to sharing the byline of the main story with Rugaber, wrote a fun sidebar about the fear of robots.

The package served as the launch to Future of Work,a series from Business News exploring how technology and global pressures are transforming workplaces. In a news week dominated by Charlottesville and North Korea,the story package,driven by aggressive social promotion,made a solid showing on NewsWhip and drew comments from all over the internet.

One of Sewell’s examples in his story about robophobia,musician Aimee Mann, tweeted a personal response to an AP staffer.

Several of the journalists took part in an “Ask Me Anything” chat with the public on Reddit,adding another experience to the AP’s growing list of creative social media engagement.

The session showed a high level of interest and concern around the topic,drawing questions including this one at the heart of the stories: “What do you think can be done,on a larger scale,to help individuals who may lose their jobs due to automation and don’t currently have the education/background to do the more complex work?”

For leading the effort on a package that made full use of the AP’s global reach,pulling in resources from three continents to illustrate an issue central to the political and economic dialogue here at home,this week’s $300 Best of the States prize is shared by Sewell,Rugaber, Minchillo and Householder.

Contact us