Today automation is making it possible to perform tasks more efficiently and precisely than any human could ever hope to do. While that’s great for companies, it’s a not-so-comforting thought for workers who could one day lose their jobs because of it. A report released by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company represents a wake-up call for today’s workforce: “Almost every occupation has partial automation potential, as a proportion of its activities could be automated,” the authors concluded.
The group estimates that as many as half the activities performed by workers across the globe could be replaced by automation by using “currently demonstrated technologies.” The seeds have already been sown for the mechanization of millions of jobs—it’s just a matter of how quickly organizations are able to successfully implement them (though, on a positive note, the authors acknowledge that innovation creates entirely new jobs as well).
7 Jobs That Can’t Be Automated
Certainly, not every sector of the economy will undergo the same level of change. Highly physically demanding jobs, especially done in “predictable environments,” are the ones that are most susceptible to replacement by software or machinery. (For more, see 3 Ways Robots Affect the Economy.) However, there are numerous jobs that will probably never become obsolete, due to the need for a level of adaptability and creativity that only humans can provide. Here is a list of seven that qualify.
- Although artificial intelligence has taken many jobs away from human workers, there are certain things that are hard to recreate.
- Such positions require a human touch. This can be in art, education, or healthcare fields.
- Computers are advanced and can recreate many human characteristics, but one thing that computers seem unable to mimic is emotional understanding.
While automation is playing a bigger role in the treatment of patients, it’s hard to imagine it ever overtaking the need for human providers – and that’s good news for doctors, nurses and other healthcare employees everywhere. A separate McKinsey report, for instance, found that fewer than 30% of a nurse’s tasks could be replaced by automation, so it looks like the professionals in scrubs are on solid ground.
Education is another area in which technology is making a huge impact, as the rise in online classes reveals. Nevertheless, experts say that there will likely always be a need for someone to provide instruction and answer questions – not to mention grade written assignments. As Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, pointed out, “The essence of teaching is deep expertise and complex interactions with other people.” And those are the sorts of activities that are least prone to mechanization.
Jobs that rely heavily on the right side of the brain—from writers to graphic designers—appear safe for the foreseeable future. Computers excel at analyzing structured data but haven’t yet proved as useful in more imaginative pursuits such as writing literature or developing logos. Now might be the time to take that artistic hobby and turn it into a profession.
Social Workers and Counselors
People undergoing difficult times, whether it’s relationship troubles or substance abuse issues, need professionals who can listen and provide support and detailed advice. Despite remarkable advances in software, that’s not something computers can offer. That’s why jobs that rely heavily on interpersonal communication, such as social workers and counselors, look safe.
Imagine being arrested and entrusting a software program to mount your defense. It’s hard to posit a scenario such as that taking place anytime soon; legal proceedings are simply too nuanced. Lawyer jokes aside, the legal system still needs people who can make sense of complex laws and argue on behalf of their client.
Certain mechanical and manufacturing jobs are being replaced by robotics, but there remains a need for people who can watch over those machines. First-line supervisors, even those in a factory setting, will likely remain in demand down the road. That’s why PC Magazine has called this position one of the most secure jobs in the age of automation.
Computer Systems Analysts
It may seem ironic to suggest that computer-related jobs are among those least threatened by computers. In reality, the more our economy relies on automation, the more we’ll need people who can implement and manage those systems. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be a 21% increase in the number of analysts by 2024, a rate much higher than for most occupations.
The Bottom Line
Without a doubt, the workforce two or three decades from now will look very different from the one we know today. Still, for certain jobs, the impact of automation will be relatively limited. If you’re in a job that requires creativity and a depth of knowledge (or significant hands-on, personal contact), you’re in a much safer spot for the foreseeable future. (For more, see Robots Are More Likely to Replace You If... and Robots at Work: 6 Ways to Beat Workplace Automation.)