How to Choose a Career That a Robot Won’t Steal

Career selection in the age of automation.

~ 4 minute read

I am kind of a junkie when it comes to facts. One of my favourite facts about word origins has always been that the word sabotage derives from the proclivity of Dutch workers’ toward throwing their clogs (French: sabots) into machinery to cause damage during labour disputes. While sadly this seems to be more of a piece of historical imagery rather than a true etymology, it still goes to show that concerns about automation taking away people’s careers and livelihoods has been a consistent theme for centuries.

These concerns continued to pop up with each new technological development and each new bout of unemployment, but the labour market has been able to adjust itself, shifting workers to other careers by increasing specialization and improving education. Next time around, however, we may not be so lucky. With artificial intelligence potentially rendering hundreds of careers unnecessary, choosing a career at this point seems like a gamble. Luckily, two Oxford researchers, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, have done the hard work for us in their paper The Future of Employment, and analysed the likelihood of certain careers being automated, showing that a staggering 47% of the US workforce is at risk of losing their careers to automation. Thanks to the nice alignment of their research with our own career information, we’re able to get some insight into choosing a career in this post-automation future.

At Sokanu, we care a lot about matching people with satisfying careers, so I set out to use this data to find which careers people should look toward in an automated future (as well as which careers to avoid). As we’ve previously mentioned, salary has little to do with career satisfaction, and with basic income even more necessary with the rise of unemployment it’s unlikely that this will change. An interesting correlation between our own satisfaction data and the work of Frey and Osborne is that creative careers tend to both have high satisfaction ratings and be difficult to automate, and thus fill up the majority of the top 10 careers we’re happy are sticking around:

  • Music Artist
  • Athlete
  • Actor
  • Choreographer
  • Zoologist
  • Filmmaker
  • Craft Artist
  • Dancer
  • Talent Agent
  • Photographer

That doesn’t mean that there are only good careers that are going to remain, however. Plenty of careers with low-satisfaction scores are sticking around for the foreseeable future, primarily customer-oriented and/or procedural careers, which unfortunately make our list of the top 10 careers we’re sad are sticking around:

  • Actuary
  • Psychiatric Technician
  • Lawyer
  • Retail Manager
  • Speech Language Pathologist
  • Pharmacist
  • Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
  • Merchandiser
  • Financial Analyst
  • Surveyor

As a complement to this, I also took a look at the opposite side of the situation: the careers that are likely to be lost to automation. Satisfaction scores only have a slight correlation with automation likelihood, so thankfully the data here is actually a little relevant. Again, the careers that dominate satisfaction among those that are likely to be automated are the more artistic and more in-control of the bunch, and while they’re tempting career paths to enter due to their high satisfaction ratings, they’re not likely to be around for long. Here are the top 10 careers we’re going to be sad to see go:

  • DJ
  • Model
  • Animal Caretaker
  • Sports Writer
  • Model Maker
  • Tour Guide
  • Veterinary Assistant
  • Library Assistant
  • Nail Technician
  • Decorating Worker

Just to round things out nicely, here are the top 10 careers we’re going to be happy to see go, which includes primarily customer-facing labour-intensive work:

  • Telemarketer
  • Janitor
  • Correctional Officer
  • Stock Clerk
  • Customer Service Representative
  • Housekeeping Cleaner
  • Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist
  • Taxi Driver
  • Food Preparation Worker
  • Roofer

That said, these lists are hardly comprehensive or set in stone. Some careers may prove easier or more difficult to automate depending on how technology develops (as Frey and Osborne mention), and beyond that remember that there’s always a place for artisanship in society. Sure, not many children grew up dreaming of being telemarketers in the first place, but for those who want to be model makers there’s almost certainly going to be work for those that are at the peak of their craft.

Look for some more automation-related work coming out of Sokanu in the future, but if you’re itching to find out more about you compatibility with the careers listed above (and over 700 others) check out our career test.

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