Career Paths

Is My Job Safe from an AI Takeover?

min read
Mikaela Thompson

"Should you be worried about AI replacing your job in the near future? Read on to find out which industries are most vulnerable..."

A form of this question was no doubt asked with the same concern and fear during the Industrial Revolution. And yes, in the 1800s much of the human labour was replaced by machines in the name of progress. More recently, during the 1980s, the staggering advent of PCs gave rise to ‘computerphobia’, and similar cries about job losses with fears over computerization. But in practice, these technological advancements ended up improving the respective standards of living with increased efficiency and productivity while also creating new job opportunities for humans.  

Today, it’s AI and automation that’s striking dread into the hearts and minds of workers in most industries who’re terrified their jobs will be replaced by AI or automation any day now. AI and its impact on humanity has long been a controversial topic, often unsympathetically depicted in sci-fi movies and novels. It’s a debate which is probably ringing a few bells as you’re reading this. So, do you need to freak out about your job being replaced by a robot or automation of some kind? It would be a lie to say AI and automation won’t affect the job market and the transition is going to be painful, especially if we don’t prepare ourselves. In fact, this shift has already begun.

Where is AI and automation at play in the workplace now? For some years now, the workplace has slowly been transitioning to more automated roles. AI disruption is already a ‘thing’ e.g., intelligent machines are managing warehouses, call centres, hotel housekeeping etc., robo-advisors are providing financial and investment advice, banking services have become automated and online-only banks are emerging, big business organisations now depend on automated robots and software to answer customer FAQs and provide customer support and so the list goes on and on.  

What has been the impact? While tech advances to date have been great for productivity and efficiency and therefore for businesses’ financial gains and consumers’ convenience, they haven’t necessarily been so kind to employees. The grimmer realities are dramatically illustrated by Amazon where nearly all aspects of management at their warehouses are directed by software e.g., from when workers work to how fast they work to when they’ll be sacked for falling behind. In regard to the latter, workers are given a specific number of items they must process per hour and if they fail to meet these targets, they can be automatically fired by the software! An unfortunate outcome of this is that employees complain, ‘it’s like leaving your house and just running and not stopping for anything for 10 straight hours, just running’. Clearly, this type of practice isn’t sustainable and, in this instance, led to workers’ health breaking down physically and emotionally with high incidences of back, knee and heart issues along with ‘burn out’. We’re not robots and still need humans to monitor and adjust software to safeguard our collective well-being. Humans are at the heart of determining what needs doing while AI/automation do the doing.

Occupations most vulnerable at the moment of being completely replaced by automation.

1) Telemarketers have a 99.9% chance of becoming completely computerized. Low conversion rates make this role suitable for computerization.

2)  Book-keeping clerks: 98% chance. Tools and apps like QuickBooks, Microsoft Office etc., offer book-keeping features and services now.

3) Benefits managers: 96% chance. As businesses are expanding, they’re adopting automated benefit and compensation management systems.

4)  Receptionists: 96% chance due to automated phoning and scheduling systems.

5)  Couriers: in the next few years, there will be no delivery people, replaced by drones and robotic devices – these are already employed by some companies.

6)  Proofreaders: there are numerous apps and software in play now for self-checking writing.

7)  Retail salespeople: 92% chance. With the emergence of online shopping, consumers are open to doing their own online market research and making up their own minds about purchases.

8) Accountants: Many large companies and business organisations currently have automated financing and accounting systems and no longer need human employees to monitor and track payables and receivables.

9)  Other at-risk jobs but with a lower percentage chance of full automation in the near future are computer support specialists, market research analysts, advertising salespeople, security guards.

Research predictions of what will happen in the future of the job market.

History has taught us that any technology-driven societal changes engender intense anxiety and fear. This is what research and recent studies are telling us about our future with AI and other automation:

1) A 2-year study by McKinsey Global Institute claims that by 2030, 30% of the world’s human labour could be taken over by AI and robots.

2) A study by Oxford Economics says robots could take over 20 million manufacturing jobs by 2030. They note that the number of robots in use globally has increased three-fold over the past two decades to 2.25 million.

3) Automation could displace between 400-800 million jobs by 2030 requiring 375 million workers to switch job categories entirely. (McKinsey Global Institute).

4) The Brookings Institution suggests even automation at 38% of most forecasts will see western democracies resorting to authoritarian policies to counter the ensuing civil chaos.

Thankfully, we’re not at this stage yet! Don’t dive into feelings of utter despair and hopelessness at these predictions. Dire as they may appear, such forecasts are not an exact science. There are other variables at play – heck a meteorite may decimate the earth before then making automation a moot point. Even if they’re right about AI and automation, forewarned is forearmed, right?

What should you do about it?

As an employee, ‘audit’ your current role to improve your understanding of the balance between human skills it requires and skills that could potentially be undertaken by a machine; get expert advice and help to identify which skills will future-proof your career and upskill or retrain; adopt a lifetime learning mindset to keep pace with evolving skills and knowledge – no jobs are for life!

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