The Rise of Automation and Job Uncertainty

As our technology advances, jobs traditionally held by humans may soon be automated. So, what does this possibly mean for you?

Read Time: 4 Mins


We’re living in a time where massive strides are being made in the world of technology. Just look at how far we’ve come in terms of developments in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics. I mean, even self-driving cars are becoming more of a reality for us. But despite excitement around what’s to come next, not all technological advancements have necessarily been welcomed with open arms by everyone. Why? Well, that has to do with the impact of automation on employment.

In other words, workers losing their jobs and being replaced by machinery because whatever you can do, machines can do better, faster, and for cheaper. But this fear isn’t a new phenomenon: it dates back to the Industrial Revolution. So, while technology has been rapidly changing the way we live and bringing a multitude of advantages, there are still drawbacks. A recent report published by the consulting firm, McKinsey, states that up to 800 million workers could end up displaced and unemployed because of automation. In addition, over 375 million people may end up finding themselves in a position of needing to learn new occupational skills. 

With all that said, you’re probably wondering what jobs and sectors are most at risk of replacement. Let’s take a look…


Manual Labour

Jobs with physical requirements, like that in manual labour, are likely to be hit hardest by automation. Welding, soldering, machine operators... These are just a few jobs that are more technically feasible to automate. For example, there’s the semi-automated mason (SAM) that can lay up to 1,200 bricks per day compared to the 300 to 500 bricks a human would be able to do. Basically, machines like SAM are able to outperform humans carrying out the same activity. This has to do with how these jobs have predictable environments. By that, we mean tasks carried out by workers that are done in well-known settings, and that are both repetitive and can be anticipated. More predictable environments allow for machines to replicate the behaviour compared to a teacher whose job is more unpredictable.



Transporta is another industry that may be threatened by automation. As mentioned, self-driving vehicles have been making major headway. Across the globe, companies are racing to be first to have autonomous vehicles driving on the roads. Google, Uber, Ford, BMW, you name it. But of course, these vehicles won’t be widely available in the next few years, still several factors - safety, testing, and traffic predictions - need to be addressed before it’s widely adopted. Even with that said, there are signs that change is coming. Take a look at the nuTonomy a tech startup that makes software in order to build autonomous vehicles and robots. In 2016, they started offering a small-scale ride-sharing service with autonomous vehicles in Singapore to test their products. And that was just the beginning. Now in Boston, Lyft is partnering up with nuTonomy to start doing the same by rolling out their own pilot for a self-driving car service.  



Adding to the list of jobs that can very well end up automated are those in retail. There’s the element of a predictable environment in many retail jobs such as packaging objects, and managing inventory on store shelves. So once again, machines would be able to more efficiently carry out these repetitive tasks than a person. But not all jobs in retail would face this same outcome. The World Economic Forum predicts that between 30-50% of jobs in retail could end up automated. That’s because there’s still the need to have social and cognitive skills when working in the retail industry. For example, a machine wouldn’t be able to give you the best advice when it comes to what pair of jeans suit you best. There’s the aspects of judgement, empathy, and trust that hasn’t been achieved yet with machines. 


Financial Services

Financial institutions are gradually turning more and more to technology. In Wall Street, we’re already seeing the replacement of humans to AI and machine learning software. Not only does it cut operational costs for companies but it’s also more time-efficient. For example, financial services company, JPMorgan, are planning to implement their own AI system named LOXM that will be able to carry out equities trades far better than a human. The repetitive nature of a job is again going to be the reason why people could face unemployment. So, any jobs that require the collection and analysis of data or producing reports are threatened. 

Don’t worry though, all hope is not lost. Surely, while there will be loss, there will also be gain - specifically the creation of new jobs. Developments in technology bring about new opportunities and change, and this can open up a field of new jobs. But in all the uncertainty, a way to better your chances of being replaced by a machine is to be adaptable. Rather than sticking to one skill, don’t be afraid to branch out and learn new skills. 


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Sophie van Wersch graduated with honors from the University College of Maastricht with a B.A., and majored in International Politics and Sociology. During her time at university she concentrated on the ways in which technology played a part in political events, and society as a whole. Since graduating, she has taken time off to prioritise her online courses in both computer science, and social media management. Although having majored in more of a political study, she intends to build a career in the video game industry - specifically, project management and/or the social media management of video games.

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