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The future of work: where have all the jobs gone?

'65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.'

McLeod, Scott and Karl Fisch, ‘Shift Happens.'


Not a surprising stat when you look at social media as an example. It’s transformed the world of marketing and produced job opportunities that were non-existent 10 years ago. This I can personally vouch for as I type this blog.

Apparently, the fourth industrial revolution is upon us, and developments in artificial intelligence, robotics and technology are picking up a frightening pace. It has already impacted our everyday lives. Buying food, and just about anything has become a doddle thanks to sophisticated machines. But how has it impacted the workplace? New technologies now allow us to work remotely and flexibly, dipping into industries around the world, using our skills in different ways. And because of this, it seems we are moving towards a more ‘freelance’ culture. Employers in the future are more likely to have fewer full-time employees, pulling in resources and skills for specific projects only.

So the way we work has already started to change, but what about the actual jobs we do, will they change too? If the economists at Oxford University, Dr Carl Frey and Dr Michael Osborne are to be believed, over 40 per cent of jobs are ‘at risk’ of being automated in the next 20 years.

artificial intelligence, future of work, careers, job, robots

However, in reality, less than 5 percent of jobs will be fully replaced by robots. A McKinsey Global Institute report suggests that about 60 per cent of jobs will end up with 30 per cent of their activities automated. Jobs will be redefined, and business processes will change. Think how ATM’s have changed bank workers roles; the jobs are still there, but the actual tasks have changed. If a job looses a repetitive element, like data processing, to automation, then the theory is that the worker can focus on the more creative side or the social element of the job ie. the fun bit.

So what can robots do?

 ‘There’s a huge potential for robotics, but you must remember that making a robot is hard. Robots can be programmed to do specific tasks, rather than doing everything.’

Dr Sabine Hauert, University of Bristol.

Predictable work

  • Physical work like welding or soldering
  • Assembly line work
  • Food preparation
  • Packaging objects
  • Retail work eg. stocktaking, automated checkouts and virtual assistants
  • Food service jobs eg. order processing
  • Data collection and processing – this currently takes up around 50 per cent of workers time in the finance and insurance sectors.

What can’t robots do?

‘Computers are very good at processing problems once the problem has been specified, but they’re not as good at generating new creative ideas,’

Dr Carl Frey, Oxford University

Unpredictable work

  • Physical jobs that are not the same every day eg. cleaning, gardening, bin collecting, construction.
  • Jobs that require social skills or interaction – teaching, jobs in care, nursing, counselling.
  • Creative jobs like artists, writers and musicians.
  • Knowledge work eg. decision making or planning where it involves expertise or creativity like a scientist or engineer.
  • Managing or developing people.

Which sectors are most at risk?

  • The largest amount of disruption is predicted to be in the Financial Services and Investors Industry
  • Healthcare will also be affected.
  • The most stability is predicted in the Media, Entertainment and Information sector and Education.

Is it just low-skill, low-wage work that will be automated?

No. Middle-skill and high-paying, high-skill occupations are also at risk. A CEO could have more than 20 per cent of his or her job automated. Tasks like report analysis, reviewing staff and using data to inform operational decisions can all be easily automated.

What skills do I need for the future?

Forget a job for life; those days are over. The future of work will become ‘the survival of the most adaptable,’ says Paul Mason, emerging technologies director for Innovate UK.

  • Continuously retrain to keep up-to-date with the latest technology.
  • Continuously develop and update your skill set; become multi-skilled.
  • Focus on creativity, leadership and self-management skills in particular.

As time goes on it’s safe to say that the machines may learn to replicate us. They may become more creative or social, but we will learn to adapt and work with them. Let’s embrace the future of work, hand over the dirty, repetitive work to the robots, and hone in what we’re good at, being human.

Just for fun! 

The Innovation Foundation Nesta has created a quick online quiz you can take and test to see if your job is likely to become obsolete due to robotic interventions.



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