The OECD Employment Outlook 2019 found that: “The world of work is changing in response to technological progress, globalisation and ageing populations. In addition, new organisational business models and evolving worker preferences are contributing to the emergence of new forms of work. Despite widespread anxiety about potential job destruction driven by technological change and globalisation, a sharp decline in overall employment seems unlikely. While certain jobs and tasks are disappearing, others are emerging and employment has been growing. As these transformations occur, a key challenge lies in managing the transition of workers in declining industries and regions towards new job opportunities. There are also concerns about job quality. While diversity in employment contracts can provide welcome flexibility for many firms and workers, important challenges remain in ensuring the quality of non‑standard work. Moreover, labour market disparities could increase further unless determined policy action is taken to ensure a more equal sharing of the costs of structural adjustment in the world of work. While there are risks, there are also many opportunities – and the future of work is not set in stone. With the right policies and institutions, the future of work can be one of more and better jobs for all.” In this article we will be examining the impact on employment of the rise in automation.
One of the most striking themes to emerge from the OECD’s 2019 research is that, over the past decade, labour market conditions have deteriorated for young people with less than tertiary education in many countries, with a rising proportion out of work or, under‑employed or low paid if in work. These changes are unlikely to be the short‑lived product of the economic downturn, which raises significant policy challenges for the years to come. From a gender perspective, in a number of countries, men have seen an increase in joblessness and under‑employment. Nevertheless, the latter remain more widespread among women, who are also more likely to be in low‑paid jobs.
The rise of automation continues to put pressure on occupations that are susceptible to replacement by algorithms and robotics. Naturally, working out what occupational groups are likely to decline in the years ahead is of most concern to young people entering the employment market. They really do not want to invest in training for a role that will likely disappear during the course of their working lives. Such thinking does, however, tend to overlook the fact that career flexibility and the willingness to transform your offer to the employment market to respond to changing needs has been one of the most powerful themes in the general advice given by career counsellors for decades. That said, there is evidence to suggest that it is of some value to look at what we currently know about declining job opportunities and to factor that into career decision making.
A survey of the gaps in many High Streets would suggest that the rise in online travel booking sites has put paid to many retail travel agencies. Where once people shied away form booking direct there are now many more travellers willing to put together their own holidays, arrange their own accommodation and generally make life difficult for the High Street travel agent. There may be a future niche for those who specialise in particular countries, sectors of the travel market or who can develop an offer that is superior or more secure than anything the individual can arrange themselves.
Mortgage brokers have faced significant competition from generations well able to use the internet to find financial solutions. The rise of online “money saving expert” services has not only contributed to general consumer education but has also enabled the mortgage hunter to access online tools arguably more powerful than a mortgage broker could find thirty years ago. The decline in the number of mortgage brokers is particularly well documented by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and, as ever, where the US employment goes there is tendency for other Western markets to follow. Mortgage brokers are, of course, part of the wider financial services industry and the opportunities for career development through change within that wider economy have been pursued with enthusiasm by those noting the trends.
John Pugliano, author of “The Robots are Coming: A Human’s Survival Guide to Profiting in the Age of Automation,” sees plenty of white collar jobs that will be threatened by automation. “Bottom line, any routine job that can easily be defined by a mathematical or logic equation will be at risk,” Pugliano says. “Opportunity will be [there] for those that can create new produces/services or solve/fix unexpected problems.”
Sometimes the changes are unexpected. For example, the legal ancillary professions face challenges that might not be straightforward. A lot of the work once done by legal case researchers can now be done with increasingly sophisticated algorithms. Pugliano’s recommendation for aspiring legal eagles – in the light of this challenge – is to focus on specialising in non-routine human emotion intense areas, like jury selection or witness profiling.
The UK really does not have an equivalent to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics but we can note developments in the US employment market as potential indicators of change in many Western labour markets. “Across the pond”, one of the groups of workers expected to be the hardest hit by an overall decline in opportunities are office and administrative workers. The rise of technology is to blame for word processing, voicemail and the internet replacing work that was once completed by a now dying breed of administrative assistant. The most recent recession saw an acceleration in the collapse of this employment market sector which started several decades ago.
Opportunities in farming have declined over several decades and the pressure on farmers to increase efficiency and effectiveness will continue to fuel this trend. There may well be a demand for seasonal staff to operate semi- and fully automated harvesting machines and even to pick fruit where an automated solution has yet to be found but the numbers are in long term decline.
The skills of the print binder and finisher are still sought out for specialist and high end publications but the demand for these professionals is expected to diminish – though at a slower pace in the coming decade than it did in the past decade. The problem is essentially that most books can now be bound and finished, without the intervention of a craftsperson, by machine and we are now reading more books on screen.
Your personal learning from all of this? Don’t assume that a craft, trade or profession currently in demand will continue to be so over your lifetime. Do your own research in your own employment market and overseas and look for trends that could reshape demand in the years ahead. If you notice signs of declining demand for your own skills look out for opportunities to move sideways into related occupations or to retrain in occupational areas connected to your established expertise.