• 01.10.17

Fewer And Fewer Jobs That Robots Can Do Are Being Given To Humans

More and more people jobs that require workers to follow simple rules and procedures are disappearing–and the people who had them are not going back to work.

Fewer And Fewer Jobs That Robots Can Do Are Being Given To Humans
[Illustration: StudioM1/iStock]

If you’re looking for long-term job security, then you may want to stick to occupations that prize critical thinking and creativity. Jobs that call on workers to follow strict rules and procedures have been disappearing, putting thousands out of work, sometimes permanently, new research shows.


In the last few decades, almost all job growth has come in “non-routine” activities, like public relations and financial analysis, as opposed to “routine” activities, such as welding, bookkeeping, and bank-telling. According to the paper, routine occupations employed 40.5% of the U.S. working-age population in 1979, but only 31.2% by 2014.

Economists Guido Matias Cortes, Nir Jaimovich, and Henry Siu show that the job market is undergoing a “polarization,” whereby automation and outsourcing are hollowing out middle-skill occupations in favor of knowledge work and low-skill service tasks. Automation is causing people doing “routine manual” and “routine cognitive” activities to either sort into non-routine manual jobs, or else leave the workforce entirely.

Automation is affecting men in particular, with male high school dropouts and men under-50 with high-school diplomas leaving the labor market in greatest numbers, presumably because they’ve been unable to gain the skills needed to do available jobs. The paper offers an explanation for why there’s been a sharp decline in male workforce participation. In 1954, about 98% of males were working. Now that’s down to about 88% overall or 83% for those with a high school diploma or less.

With new forms of automation appearing all the time–including sophisticated robots–these trends are set to continue. The answer, the paper suggests, is for people to work further up the skills continuum, or perhaps for society to depend less on jobs for the general welfare.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.