Much has been written about the upcoming “robot apocalypse” as it relates to the jobs market. Technological advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are rushing along at a breakneck pace. Already human workers in fields from construction to finance are being replaced by their mechanized or digital counterparts. But plenty more industries will be affected in the coming decade.
A 2017 McKinsey Global Institute study of 800 occupations across 46 countries found that by 2030, 800 million people will lose their jobs to automation. That’s one-fifth of the global workforce. A further one-third of the global workforce will need to retrain if they want to keep their current jobs as well. And looking at the effects of automation on American jobs alone, researchers from Oxford University found that “47 percent of U.S. workers have a high probability of seeing their jobs automated over the next 20 years.”
The good news is that while the above stats are rightly cause for concern, they also reveal that 53% of American jobs and four-fifths of global jobs are unlikely to be affected by advances in artificial intelligence and robotics. But just what are those fields? I spoke to three experts in artificial intelligence, robotics, and human productivity to get their automation-proof career advice.
“Although I believe every single job can, and will, benefit from a level of AI or robotic influence, there are some roles that, in my view, will never be replaced by technology,” says Tom Pickersgill, the founder and CEO of Broadstone, a staffing platform that leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to match job seekers with some of the U.K.’s largest employers.
One category of jobs that falls into this safe zone are creatives, which include artists, singers, and musicians. “Humans use their life experiences, their emotions, and their creativity to bring things to life. Robotics and AI uses data to learn and improve,” says Pickersgill. “I don’t believe data can produce genuine works of art that will truly engage an audience through shared experiences, whether that be a painting, a melody or a voice.”
When running a production line, problems and bottlenecks are inevitable–and usually that’s a bad thing. But in this case, those unavoidable issues will save human jobs because their solutions will require human ingenuity, says Mark Williams, head of product at People First, which runs a software platform to enhance human productivity.
“Although machines have the ability to assemble things faster than any human, they do not possess the analytics, domain expertise and valuable knowledge required to solve production problems,” says Williams, who notes that while these types of jobs will be highly skilled, they will also be in demand.
Mat Hunter, director of the Central Research Laboratory, a tech-focused co-working space and accelerator for tech startups, have seen startups trying to create all kinds of new technologies, which has given him insight into just what machines can and can’t pull off. It’s lead him to believe that jobs like the humble hairdresser are safer from automation than those of, says, accountancy.
“There have been attempts to create hair cutting machines in the past but, with the exception of the buzz cut, it does really require considerable dexterity which is hard to automate,” says Hunter. “And anyway, machines are bad at gossip.”
Therapists and social workers
Another automation-proof career is likely to be one involved in helping people heal the mind, says Pickersgill. “People visit therapists because there is a need for emotional support and guidance. This can only be provided through real human interaction–by someone who can empathize and understand, and who can offer advice based on shared experiences, rather than just data-driven logic.”
Teachers are so often the unsung heroes of our society. They are overworked and underpaid–yet charged with one of the most important tasks anyone can have: nurturing the growth of young people. The good news for teachers is that their jobs won’t be going anywhere.
“Although AI and robotics will undoubtedly support teachers in their roles in the years ahead, I don’t envisage a day where our children will not be taught by a person,” Pickersgill says. “People skills, empathy, and understanding are critical for creating well rounded and emotionally confident young people–only a human can be sure to achieve this.”
Doctors and nurses will also likely never see their jobs taken by automation, says Williams. While automation will no doubt better enhance the treatments provided by doctors and nurses the fact of the matter is that robots aren’t going to outdo healthcare workers’ ability to connect with patients and make them feel understood the way a human can.
“In healthcare workers need social intelligence to connect with patients. Even our most sophisticated robots can only pretend to build relationships, empathize or show other forms of emotional intelligence to create personal connections with people,” says Williams.
While humans might be fine with robots flipping their burgers and artificial intelligence managing their finances, being comfortable with a robot nannying your children or looking after your elderly mother is a much bigger ask. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that even today’s most advanced robots don’t have the physical dexterity to perform the movements and actions carers do every day.
But even if robots could be as spry as a human and rock a crying infant to sleep in its arms or help an elderly person change their clothes, Pickersgill still thinks caretakers are safe from automation because humans simply couldn’t feel comfortable being cared for by robots. “People want to be looked after by people. Loneliness is a major issue, especially for the elderly and the reason is because as humans, we crave human interaction,” says Pickersgill. Robots, by their very nature, could never provide that human interaction. “Emotionally, as well as physically, [human] carers are absolutely vital to ensuring happiness, comfort, and mental well-being,” says Pickersgill, which means their jobs are safe for the foreseeable future.
While this list is not exhaustive, it does provide insight into the common qualities of careers that are safe from automation for the time being. Those careers are any in which an understanding of the human condition is essential (artists, therapists, and social workers), the ability to adapt to nuanced and unforeseen changes (hairdressers and maintenance foreman), and the ability to relate to and empathize with people (teachers and healthcare workers). Until artificial intelligence and robots can replicate those qualities, those looking for job security in the future may want to consider the above, or similar, careers.