North Carolina State University economist Dr. Michael Walden says the buyouts being offered by Lenovo reflect the “stressful environment” businesses face and the “stressful” labor market workers must deal with.

in an exclusive story, Walden spells out the challenges he says companies must deal with in a rapidly changing technology environment. Those changes mean workers could lose jobs and face the challenge of retraining.

He also says education systems must develop programs that can speed up the retraining of workers affected by buyouts or layoffs.

Lenovo is not the only Triangle technology company looking to trim costs as recent layoffs at Cisco (Nasdaq: NCSO) attest.

Plus, IBM’s decision (NYSE: IBM) to sell its x86 server business was a direct result of Big Blue management’s decision to put less emphasis on lower-end hardware. IBM also is divesting itself of much of its semiconductor business.

“Technological unemployment”

Even as unemployment drops in North Carolina and across the country to rates not seen since before the 2009 recession, Walden warns that change will continue to impact companies and workers.

Walden wrote recently that three problem areas continue to affect the state’s job market as well as others. Two are “pay and slow growth in middle-paying jobs.” Both relate to what he called  ”technological unemployment.”

“The concept refers to job losses stemming from new technology and machinery. Technological unemployment is not new, but some say it is accelerating and moving into new occupations,” Walden explained.

“Technological unemployment is a major reason for the relative decline in middle-paying jobs. Many tasks performed by workers in the factory have been taken over by machines. The same is true in construction and even retailing and sales.

“Now there’s the likelihood that modern machinery and technology will ultimately replace workers in other sectors. Live video-supplied lectures to college classes may take the place of on-site instructors. Orders at restaurants can now be taken by computer “tablets” instead of by waiters and waitresses. Robots may soon be able do the stocking as well as the check-out in supermarkets. Some futurists worry there just won’t be enough jobs for people in the decades ahead.”

In explaining the reasoning for the buyouts, Lenovo’s Ray Gorman said the reason was to keep Lenovo “competitive.”

Walden’s warning

Respond to a series of questions about the Lenovo buyouts and their meaning, Walden replied in detail:

“I can speak generally about your questions – but not specifically to Lenovo.

“Businesses today face intense competition, both nationally and internationally. In addition, for tech companies, there’s always a question about whether the next development will be in a product or process outside their expertise (think of Blackberry being overwhelmed by

“Hence, businesses want to be flexible and cost conscious. Even if a company is expanding, labor is always a cost companies are looking to control – if not reduce.

“For workers, this is further complicated by the fact that many human-done tasks are now being done by technology and machinery – and this replacement of human-performed tasks will likely expand in the future. Another option for companies is to “contract out” tasks rather than perform them with permanently positions (Bayer did this recently).

“Even with a job recovery, this makes the labor market challenging and stressful for workers, especially if an individual spent years training for a position which is now obsolete.

“For public-policy makers and educators, moving to an education system that can train and re-train workers in months, rather than years, is one way to address the issues I’ve outlined.”