If you are in these 50 professions, robots are coming for your job (and a few that are safe from ‘digital outsourcing’)

Insedia.com asked me to look at jobs that were most vulnerable to automation. Click for Insedia.com.

Every time you check yourself out at a grocery store, even if you find it terribly convenient, there’s probably a little voice inside you that thinks, “Uh-oh.” As in, “Uh-oh, there’s a machine doing the job a person used to do.” Well, here’s the bad news.

There’s plenty more where that came from.

U.S. politicians spent the past year arguing about trade deals and walls, but you heard almost nothing about robots and artificial intelligence. Many American workers will soon have a lot more to fear from machines than immigrants.

In fact, plenty of workers who probably don’t think they are vulnerable to computer code may very well find themselves digitally outsourced this decade. While it’s obvious that simple manual labor, like fast-food employment, will be among the first to face automation elimination, plenty of white-collar workers are at risk, too. Basically, any job where task follow relatively predicable patterns (i.e., anyone who complains they are bored) can be automated. That ropes in even high-paying, formerly stable occupations like law. Get a drink or two in a lawyer, and she or he will admit to all the cutting and pasting that goes on in many common legal briefs. Lawyers who don’t fear robots aren’t paying attention. One glance at Joshua Browder’s ragingly successful DoNotPay parking ticket-fighting bot should cure them of that.

So, how worried should you be? Fortunately, researchers at Oxford recently ran the numbers on 700-plus professions to find out exactly how vulnerable many jobs are to automation. Every thinking person of working age should be familiar with this list, so that’s why you really need to keep reading. In a moment, I’m going to walk you through the bottom of the list, and explain the kinds of jobs that are at most risk. But first, let’s talk about the clever folks who at least will be able to find a role in the new world order when our artificial intelligence overlords are in charge.

In a phrase, these are people who solve “engineering bottlenecks.”

Machines are great at rote tasks. They are terrible at “soft” skills, like sensing emotions. For quite a while, machines will be bad at sales. For example: It’s easy for a machine to ring up your purchases and take your money. It’s much harder to sense from your facial expression that you haven’t found something you want, and help you find it in the store.

In technical terms, sensing emotion is an engineering bottleneck, according to the Oxford report. So, if you want a future, get good at things machines are bad at, and you have half a chance.

I’ll help you with that now. The list of jobs that are least likely to be automated are heavy on work that requires empathy: Recreational therapists, audiologists, social workers, dieticians, sales engineers, special Ed teachers, makeup artists, athletic trainers and coaches. Even folks like music directors, and interior designers do pretty well on this scale.

Now, onto the bad news.

If you browse through the Oxford list of the 50 most machine-replaceable jobs, many occupations listed there will probably provoke in you some feelings of schadenfreude. At the very bottom of the list is telemarketers. So maybe this robot invasion isn’t so bad after all. There’s also a bunch of other jobs you’d fully expect, like hand sewers and data entry “keyers” and bank tellers and of course, cashiers.

But there’s a whole bunch of other well-heeled jobs in finance that rank below even cashiers — loan officers, tax preparers, credit analysts, legal secretaries, and real estate brokers. Even taxi drivers rank higher than that group.

Let your eyes drift a bit higher up the list, and include the 20% of occupations at the highest risk, and you’ll see accountants and auditors right next to truck drivers. Budget analysts are next to cement masons. Insurance sales agents are sandwiched between cabinetmakers and dredge operators (some justice there?). And to show you I’m not letting my bias through, technical writers are next to bus drivers.

The point is clear: Don’t be so glib about that fast checkout next time you breeze through a drugstore to grab some Advil. You could easily end up being replaced by self-checkout. Better start getting empathetic, fast.

Here’s a countdown of the most automate-able occupations in the Oxford study.

50. Grinding and Polishing Workers, Hand

49. Pesticide Handlers, Sprayers, and Applicators, Vegetation

48. Log Graders and Scalers

47. Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians

46. Cashiers

45. Camera and Photographic Equipment Repairers

44. Motion Picture Projectionists

43. Prepress Technicians and Workers

42. Counter and Rental Clerks

41. File Clerks

40. Real Estate Brokers

39. Telephone Operators

38. Agricultural and Food Science Technicians

37. Payroll and Timekeeping Clerks

36. Credit Authorizers, Checkers, and Clerks

35. Hosts and Hostesses, Restaurant, Lounge, and Coffee Shop

34. Models

33. Inspectors, Testers, Sorters, Samplers, and Weighers

32. Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks

31. Legal Secretaries

30. Radio Operators

29. Driver/Sales Workers

28. Claims Adjusters, Examiners, and Investigators

27. Parts Salespersons

26. Credit Analysts

25. Milling and Planing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal

and Plastic

24. Shipping, Receiving, and Traffic Clerks

23. Procurement Clerks

22. Packaging and Filling Machine Operators and Tenders

21. Etchers and Engravers

20. Tellers

19. Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

18. Insurance Appraisers, Auto Damage

17. Loan Officers

16. Order Clerks

15. Brokerage Clerks

14. Insurance Claims and Policy Processing Clerks

13. Timing Device Assemblers and Adjusters

12. Data Entry Keyers

11. Library Technicians

10. New Accounts Clerks

9. Photographic Process Workers and Processing Machine Operators

8. Tax Preparers

7. Cargo and Freight Agents

6. Watch Repairers

5. Insurance Underwriters

4. Mathematical Technicians

3. Sewers, Hand

2. Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers

1. Telemarketers


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About Bob Sullivan 1431 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

1 Comment

  1. I didn’t see industrial model maker… That’s what I do… Basically you make prototypes of products, either for testing or as proof of concept… This is an all but dead field as most companies now use 3D printers or don’t both with proof of concept, just neat looking 3D renders (who cares if it actually works, it looks cool).
    This kinda sucks because years ago one of the prototypes I worked on was a small robotic pool cleaner…
    Damn karma.
    I also imagine that “Robotic Impersonators” (performers who dress up as robots) would also be an endangered profession… Because why hire a stupid human if you can use a stupid robot to do the same job…
    Well, that’s if it’s an actual profession and not something I just made up.
    I’d be happy to see robots come for the telemarketers… But mostly if was with lasers blasting.
    We’ve all wished for that at least once.
    I wonder at what mark we’ll reach the tipping point where high unemployment due to automation will drive down wages to the point where humans will be cheaper to operate then robots.
    Well, I might be partly responsible for one robot, but I’m never buying a Roomba…

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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