Which Jobs Are Vulnerable To Technology? (Or, The Robots Are Coming)

Remember watching sci-fi movies in awe of those futuristic concepts? Or wishing that hoverboards would be a reality in our lifetime? As if we were ever threatened by air touch technology and kitchen appliances that talked to you.

But maybe we should have been.

Now, artificial intelligence is not just a name of a movie featuring Jude Law. It’s here and it’s creating a fundamental global change in the workforce.

One report by the Foundation for Young Australians says it’s such a significant change, if we don’t understand and adapt to the challenges, then we’ll struggle to remain relevant in our careers.

Of course technology affecting our jobs isn’t a new phenomenon.

Demand for certain products has and always will drop whenever newer, faster technology becomes available. But what about the people behind those outdated products – the librarians, the DVD shop franchise owners, or retail staff facing redundancy because of the online shopping boom? It’s all fun and games when we’re buying discount package holidays to Bali. It’s not so fun when that action means making job titles like “travel agent” obsolete.

So how do we keep up with technological advances? How do we compete with machines replacing human tasks? Is there a future for us humble humans in the workplace?

Absolutely, says Natasha Munasinghe, director of The FRANK Team, a training organisation focused on real skills for the future, but only as long as we’re looking to grow and adopt other crucial skills.

“Statistics tell us around 70% of the jobs that students are studying for are jobs that won’t even exist once they graduate, so there’s a necessary shift needed, particularly for Universities to offer more of an entrepreneurial style education,” she tells The Cusp.

The type of education Natasha believes is necessary is less focussed on tangible skills that are dying out and more on skills that technology will find hard to replace, no matter how advanced. Skills like the ability to tolerate failure and take initiative for example. Natasha and other researchers call them “critical thinking” skills.

“For young people to feel empowered around all these radical digital, physical and biological advances, we need to teach them critical thinking skills like negotiation, decision making and complex problem solving,” she says.

Alongside this, she also believes emotional intelligence and creativity need to be encouraged and nurtured. “Universities need to get comfortable with providing education on the whole person, rather than just on discipline-specific knowledge,” she advises.

Obviously Stanford Uni gets it; Natasha says students at the prestigious American college take on “missions rather than majors”, which recognise the value of having the broad range of skills needed in an uncertain job market.

Of course there’ll always (we hope) be career paths less vulnerable to extinction through automation than others.

Natasha says that while there are the obvious jobs in IT, particularly coding, that will remain relevant, it’s jobs requiring human touch like nursing, aged care and beauty therapy that have also have relatively safe prospects.

In fact, a 2013 Oxford University report highlight the importance of human interaction with their list of “safe” career paths. Some include:

  • Mental Health/ Substance Abuse Social workers
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Dieticians, and
  • Physicians.

According to a report by Forbes some careers expected to be under threat are:

  • Some health professionals: With robots able to do much of the workload.
  • Architects: With software programs gaining momentum, helping people design their own dream homes.
  • Finance workers: Where living in a cashless society means paying with our phones, depositing into ATM machines and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin taking over. It’s not just banks that could suffer but professions such as accounting too.
  • Legal jobs: Where it’s not just legal secretaries being redundant but higher up the ladder too as lawyers face serious change. (One statistical model by Michigan University and South Texas College of Law predicted the outcome of nearly 71% of Supreme Court cases, which isn’t great news for the profession.)

Before we freak out screaming “the robots are coming!”, it’s important to piece together what researchers are really trying to tell us. Sure, a few jobs like the postal worker may disappear because of letters and bills going to your inbox rather than post-box, but most will just be redefined.

A recent Deloitte report reminds us that when certain jobs go, others will be created in their place. This cycle of creation and elimination has always been around in the workforce.

“The central theme is that every one of us will continually need to upskill and take on the attitude of being a lifelong learner,” Natasha reckons.

Although we might not be able to 100 percent predict our job future, it seems we can all be prepared for change.