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What jobs will get automated in the next 20 years?

The Economist magazine recently featured a special report on artificial intelligence (July 2016).

‘Automation and anxiety – will smarter machines cause mass unemployment?’

Many jobs that are currently done by highly-trained white-collar workers can be automated as a result of advances in artificial intelligence.

Any work that is done in a routine way is vulnerable to automation.

A 2013 study by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne looked at the likelihood of computerization for 702 occupations.

The kinds of jobs likely to be automated include:-

  • Taxi and delivery drivers

  • Receptionists

  • Security guards

  • Cashiers

  • Counter and rental clerks

  • Telemarketers

  • Accountants

  • Paralegals

  • Some forms of journalism (e.g. writing market reports and sports summaries)

Whilst it seems worrying that machines could take over a lot of jobs, the thing to realize is that in the past, technology has created more jobs than it destroys. For example, ATMs at banks have replaced tasks previously performed by bank clerks. This has cut costs at many banks, allowing them to open more branches in response to customer demand – so the total number of jobs in banks has actually increased since 2004. Likewise, the automation of routine tasks in the legal industry has caused an increase in the number of legal clerks in the U.S. between 2000 and 2013; the automation of shopping through e-commerce, combined with technology that can recommend relevant products to consumers, has led to an increase in overall employment in the retail sector.

Some jobs will probably always be better done by humans – particularly those jobs involving the need for social skills and rapport, such as doctors, therapists, dentists, hairdressers and sports coaches. “Caring jobs” have been increasing greatly over the past decade and will continue to do so – for example teaching assistants, careworkers, or nursing assistants.

The other encouraging thing about the technological revolution is that many new industries will arise over the next few years as a result of technological change. 100 years ago, no-one could have predicted the need for software designers, yet now this is a highly-valued profession. Likewise, there will be many new types of job opportunities in the future as a result of the genesis of new industries and professions that don't currently exist.

What does all of this mean for today’s student trying to decide which degree to study for?

  • The skills that will be in higher demand in the future will be non-routine skills, particularly in areas requiring human interaction and rapport.

  • All areas of work will be impacted by increasing technology and automation - so whichever degree course you select, it should include some study options that inform you about the future impact of technology on your chosen field.

  • Automation and technology will cause jobs to shift and change more rapidly over the next few decades – so people will need to continuously keep learning new skills so as to be able to adapt and take advantage of new opportunities.

  • Online learning and training will therefore become ubiquitous for most workers throughout their learning lives – so ensure your chosen degree course includes some training in digital literacy – how to use the internet for online learning.

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