Some of the 13,000 Wichita-area jobs lost since 2008 are gone. Forever. Welders, aircraft wing assemblers, the woman who answered the phone, the guy who wrote ad copy. Employers replaced them with robots or workers in another country or just decided that those jobs didn't need to be done anymore.
The recession, say experts, has pushed companies to re-examine their work forces and work practices in a way they don't during good times. So far, companies have benefited enormously.
The nation's productivity shot up 6.3 percent last quarter over the previous year. That's the dynamic American economy reinventing itself with new ways of doing things, say economists.
But there is a huge cost: Economists say that millions of laid-off workers no longer match up with available jobs, even when the economy comes back. In April, 6.7 million people, 46 percent of the nation's unemployed, had been out of work for more than six months.
At Wichita's CNH plant, production welders had always put together the company's skid steer loaders.
They stood at stations for a whole shift, flipping their masks down and up as they welded together the steel plates that make up the bodies of the vehicles.
A few years ago CNH added a few welding robots, large insect-like machines programmed to weld spots over and over without break.
Last year, the plant downsized its work force as sales fell off the table. But the company may not do much hiring back as the economy improves because it plans to spend $20 million next year. It will add more robots, largely eliminating human welding and material handling.
The service sector has also sought to boost productivity.
Lee Gray worked from her home in Wichita as an account manager with Thomson Reuters. For years, she visited accountants, lawyers and other professionals throughout Kansas to sell access to specialized databases.
She was laid off in January. Her employer decided Kansas could be covered by the reps in Kansas City and Denver.
"I was totally blind-sided," she said. "I asked them 'How can you lay off somebody who was generating revenue?' It wasn't enough, I guess."
The future can be seen at Wichita Area Technical College's Aviation Tech Center, 7603 E. Pawnee, where students learn to repair airplanes.
Many of the students are laid-off aircraft production workers who are trying to move into the growing field of aircraft maintenance.
In less than two years, they learn the basics of repairing aircraft frames and engines.
James Boone of Conway Springs is in the Powerplant II class and expects to graduate soon. Many of students already have job offers — but generally not in Wichita.
Boone left his welding job at CNH to go to work at Cessna in October 2008. He was laid off before his three-week training class was over.
"I thought it would be more money, a better job," he said. "Little did I know."
Gray also has discovered a new calling. She and neighbor Linda Hall are collaborating on a business called Creative Promos, selling merchandise bearing corporate logos.
"We've already had significant success," Gray said.
Mark of a dying job
What disappearing jobs have in common is technology, said Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research.
Jobs that are low-technology or use old technology are prime to be replaced, he said. This applies especially to production and clerical work.
Another category, ironically, are those who work in technology and technology support. Newer and better technology, such as off-the-shelf software replacing custom software, often makes their job obsolete.
"If a computer can replace it, then it will go away," Hill said.
Low educational requirements is another sign of a job prone to disappearing. If a worker needs only a few weeks of on-the-job training, then that job is ripe to be eliminated, he said.
There are plenty of exceptions, he said. Waiting tables, for one, violates most of the above guidelines and won't be going away.
The good news, he said, is that many of the new jobs pay high wages. But those jobs require more education. The fastest growing jobs require a two- or four-year college degree.
Todd Seeley, director of operations at the CNH plant, said that while technology will eliminate many jobs, it also will create a need for a few highly skilled, highly paid technicians to operate and maintain the robots.
The disappearance of jobs isn't new, said Chris Wallace, a career management consultant for Right Management, and it will continue in the future.
The Internet, social media, and other new categories of technology continue to transform the workplace, she said. And the pace will accelerate.
"We are on the tip of the iceberg of corporations driving efficiencies through more technology and fewer people," she said. "People who sit back and don't manage their own careers are not going to be around."