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Season of the Robot – future proof your career

As London Fashion Week kicks off we got to thinking about trends. Vogue declared Spring/Summer 2017 “season of the dress” but for the world of work it seems to be season of the robot!

The Bank of England Governor closed 2016 with a warning about 15M UK jobs being lost to workplace automation. While 2017 began with a Japanese insurance firm replacing over 30 employees with an artificial intelligence (AI) system faster and more accurate than its human counterparts.

So, we wondered, where does the future lie for careers now?

Jobs at most risk from robots

The Bank of England Governor Mark Carney was partly referring to research by the University of Oxford which considered factors like whether jobs required skills currently beyond robots’ capabilities, such as: creativity and social intelligence.

It found that some of the jobs most susceptible to robot takeover were likely to be:

Telemarketing – 99%
Accountants and Auditors – 94%
Retail Salespeople – 92%
Technical Writers (user manuals etc.) – 89%
Estate Agents – 86%
Word Processors & Typists – 81%

On the whole, the research reckoned so-called lower-skilled roles were at risk. UNLESS… They involve complex movement in unpredictable environments – think: making beds in hotel rooms, operating a crane on a building site, or collecting refuse, says Fortune magazine

But these jobs could also be affected

Stanford Academic Jerry Kaplan, author of Humans Need Not Apply says: automation is now “blind to the colour of your collar”

Some Economists think the future workforce will comprise two groups doing non-routine work:

Highly skilled and highly-paid workers like Architects and Senior Managers
And low-paid, unskilled workers, such as Cleaners and Fast Food Chefs / Servers

Daniel Susskind, a lecturer in economics at Oxford, and one of the authors of The Future of the Professions agrees that even relatively highly skilled jobs like Doctors and Lawyers could be at risk.


Because increasingly software can search reams of complex documents much more quickly than human Clerks or Paralegals!

But there’s good news

It’s not all doom and gloom. The threat of automation has been with us for long time. First there was the Industrial Revolution and even President Kennedy declared automation to be the major domestic challenge of the 1960s, says The Economist
David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that in the past technology has wound up creating more jobs than it destroys. HOW?
Well, automating a particular task, saving time and money, often increases demand for human workers to perform other tasks around it that have not been automated
AIs may replace humans, in some roles, but they’ll still need to be built, trained and even have dialogue written for them – apparently some AI firms are said to be hiring poets!

What we can do to stay ahead

Whether computers reallocate or displace jobs human workers will be required to learn new skills. Daniel Susskind advises staying ahead of machines and learning something they can’t yet do: “…machines are bad at interpersonal communication, empathy and problem-solving.”

With this in mind experts reckon the hardest to automate roles include skills like:

Managing and developing people
Decision-making, planning, or creative work
Empathy and social interaction

However, future proof jobs themselves are likely to be varied:

Consultancy firm Deloitte has highlighted a profound shift over the past two decades towards ‘caring’ jobs, for example
While, roles which require creativity and personalisation, like some Chef positions, say, are also likely to be pretty hard to automate

In conclusion – Unlike previous technological revolutions most sectors today are affected by increasing automation.

This means many workers will probably need to switch from routine, unskilled jobs to non-routine, skilled roles to stay ahead.

While some sectors are less likely to be automated than others, the best way to stay ahead of the automation curve is to acquire new skills.

Set yourself apart from other candidates and develop your sector expertise, on the one hand. While soft skills, like empathy and creativity are increasingly becoming the way to set yourself apart from robot competitors. (For more on soft skills see our blog Win Interviews & Influence Recruiters with Your Soft Skills.)

Next Steps: Are you concerned about workplace automation? Had any experiences on this topic you’d like to share? Or are you looking to change your role and need some real-life help? If so let us know!

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