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XPRIZE offers $5M for job training innovations

The nonprofit organization known as XPRIZE has been in charge of tech competitions focusing on far-out frontiers such as space travel and computerized avatars, but its latest contest hits closer to home: XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling is offering $5 million in prizes for innovations that could revolutionize job training for under-resourced communities.

The 30-month competition, sponsored by a nonprofit venture philanthropy organization called New Profit, kicks off today — just as the national emergency declared due to the coronavirus outbreak is passing the 100-day mark.

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Boeing CEO says voluntary layoffs are on the way

Boeing Renton Factory
Boeing has been dealing with the worldwide grounding of its 737 MAX planes as well as the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. (GeekWire Photo)

Boeing CEO David Calhoun says the company is preparing a voluntary layoff program that’s aimed at reducing the need for “other workforce actions” as it deals with the economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter sent to employees, Calhoun said details about how the program works will be laid out in the next three to four weeks. Speaking on background, a Boeing official said several thousand employees are expected to take the voluntary layoff package or retire.

For the past year, Boeing has been struggling with the worldwide grounding of its 737 MAX passenger jets in the wake of two catastrophic crashes. The company was targeting the middle of this year to resolve all the safety issues and win the Federal Aviation Administration’s go-ahead to put the planes back into operation.

Then the pandemic hit. Last month, reports emerged about COVID-19 cases — and at least one death — among employees at Boeing’s production facilities in the Puget Sound region. Those facilities are now in the middle of a 14-day shutdown while Boeing conducts deep-cleaning operations at the plants and assesses the wider impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Calhoun said Boeing was “doing everything possible to keep this team intact” during the pandemic.

“But one thing is already clear: It will take time for the aerospace industry to recover from the crisis. When the world emerges from the pandemic, the size of the commercial market and the types of products and services our customers want and need will likely be different. We will need to balance the supply and demand accordingly as the industry goes through the recovery process for years to come,” he told employees.

“It’s important we start adjusting to our new reality now,” he wrote.

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Study: AI takes aim at high-paying jobs

Job exposure map
A map by the Brookings Institution uses shades of pink and red to indicate which cities are expected to be hard-hit by job disruption related to AI. (Brookings Graphic / Source: Brookings Analysis of Webb, 2019)

When experts talk about the disruptive effects of artificial intelligence, they tend to focus on low-paid laborers — but a newly published study suggests higher-paid, more highly educated workers will be increasingly exposed to job challenges.

The study puts Seattle toward the top of the list for AI-related job disruption.

The analysis, which draws on work by researchers at Stanford University and the Brookings Institution, makes use of a novel technique that connects AI-related patents with the job descriptions for different professions.

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Space Talent rounds up final-frontier jobs

Blue Origin mission control
Blue Origin has more than 600 job openings nationwide. (Blue Origin Photo)

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are often at odds, but there’s at least one place where those two space-industry rivals are on the same page: the newly unveiled Space Talent job database.

The search engine for careers in the space industry is a project of Space Angels, a nationwide network designed to link angel investors with space entrepreneurs.

“If you’ve ever considered working in space, this jobs board has 3,000 reasons to make the leap,” Space Angels CEO Chad Anderson said in a tweet.

The database aggregates job postings from Blue Origin and SpaceX as well as smaller space ventures — including Kymeta Corp.Olis RoboticsSpaceflight Industries and Tethers Unlimited in the Seattle area.

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Wash. Gov. Inslee voices concern over automation

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says the coming age of wider automation and smarter artificial intelligence will require upgrades in educational and training systems — as well as improvements in the social safety net for those who would otherwise be left behind.

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Boeing works on ways to fill future pilot gap

Flight simulation
Boeing and the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Simulation and Training have developed a pilot training program that makes use of a virtual-reality co-pilot avatar. (Boeing Photo)

If Boeing is projecting a doubling in the global commercial airplane fleet over the next 20 years, it only makes sense that the pilot workforce may have to double as well.

That’s the conclusion that Boeing reaches in its 2018 Pilot & Technician Outlook, released today. The upshot? There’ll be a demand for 790,000 pilots over the next 20 years, representing “the most significant demand in the outlook’s nine-year history,” Boeing says.

“Despite strong global air traffic growth, the aviation industry continues to face a pilot labor supply challenge, raising concern about the existence of a global pilot shortage in the near term,” Keith Cooper, vice president of training and professional services at Boeing Global Services, said in today’s news release. “An emphasis on developing the next generation of pilots is key to help mitigate this.”

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Elon Musk reveals 9 percent job cut at Tesla

Elon Musk with Tesla Semi and Roadster
Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduces the Semi truck and an updated Roadster at a high-profile event in November 2017. (Tesla via YouTube)

Just days after promising he’d make Tesla profitable within months, CEO Elon Musk announced today that 9 percent of the company’s workforce is being laid off as part of the effort to make it so.

Musk tweeted out his memo to employees, laying out the reasons for the layoffs.

He said the “difficult but necessary” decision was the result of a comprehensive organizational restructuring, targeting duplication as well as some job functions that, “while they made sense in the past, are difficult to justify today.”

“Given that Tesla has never made an annual profit in the almost 15 years since we have existed, profit is obviously not what motivates us,” he wrote. “What drives us is our mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable, clean energy, but we will never achieve that mission unless we eventually demonstrate that we can be sustainably profitable. That is a valid and fair criticism of Tesla’s history to date.”

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Boeing details $100M workforce education plan

Boeing logo
The Boeing Co., which has its corporate headquarters in Chicago, says it’s devoting $100 million to workforce development programs. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing is launching new educational initiatives to follow through on its pledge to spend $100 million of its federal tax savings on workforce development programs.

The initiatives include a partnership with Degreed.com to give employees access to online lessons, certification courses and degree programs.

Another initiative will put $6 million into a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and several historically black colleges and universities. That investment will support scholarships, internships and boot-camp programs to help students experience what it’s like to work at Boeing, the company said.

There’ll also be several new programs to help Boeing employees enhance their technical skills and keep up with industry trends. The focus of the first program will be digital literacy, Boeing said.

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Report dials down the risk to jobs from automation

Fulfillment center
An automated guided vehicle trundles packages inside an Amazon fulfillment center in Dupont, Wash. Automation is expected to affect a wide range of occupations. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

working paper written for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that about 14 percent of the jobs in 32 OECD countries, including the U.S., are at high risk of being automated.

That raw figure may not sound as dire as some of the previous numbers cited for the effect of automation and artificial intelligence on employment, and that’s what’s been grabbing the headlines over the past couple of days. But a close reading of the report, published last month, shouldn’t lead anyone to brush off the issue — as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin did last year.

The authors of the study, Ljubica Nedelkoska and Glenda Quintini, say the level of automation risk varies widely from country to country. Slovakia comes in on the high side (33 percent), while the projected risk is only 6 percent in Norway.

The high-risk percentage for the U.S. is 10 percent, which is significantly lower than the 47 percent that was cited in a provocative 2013 study by Oxford researchers. But even 10 percent translates to about 15 million U.S. jobs.

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Tech experts get real about automation and jobs

Automation panel
Artefact Group CEO Rob Girling moderates a panel on the social effects of automation. The panelists include Google Research’s Dan Liebling, Uber’s Caleb Weaver, Microsoft Research’s Ece Kamar, Microsoft veteran Cesar Keller and Avanade’s Aaron Reich. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

It’s a thrilling time for technology, with innovations in artificial intelligence and robotics propelling society ever faster forward. But is it too fast?

That’s a question that came up more than once on March 21 during a panel discussion on automation’s impacts on society and work, presented at Seattle University by the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Northwest.

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