Ten million British jobs could be taken over by computers and robots over the next 20 years, wiping out more than one in three roles. Thus says The Telegraph newspaper; naturally using inflammatory rhetoric to excite comment.
One can clearly see low-paid repetitive jobs disappearing at a rapid lick. According to the article, jobs for those earning less than £30,000 are at higher risk of being automated by machines or software. Some figures put the job losses as high as 35% of jobs.
In the past, it has been said that mechanization (or automation) actually created jobs. Examples include the mechanization of agriculture. Fewer jobs were left on the farm, but this was more than offset with more jobs in manufacturing agricultural machinery. this resulted in a huge lift in productivity with no net job losses. However, because of the widespread and rapid increase in automation and application of software, this positive picture of job creation is less likely today.
As you would imagine, jobs which are highly creative, critical and require a high level of thinking are unlikely to be automated. For example, a brain surgeon is not going to lose his/her job to a computer program or robot, but a clerk in a construction firm is more at risk.
Whether you are a plumber, electrician, plant operator or chief engineer, this rapid change to jobs will impact on you.
Jobs on the chopping block
Mid-level and semi-skilled jobs are likely to continue to disappear; particularly those requiring repetitive processing. Typical examples of jobs at risk include clerical work and support services in such areas as administration and sales, in industries ranging from finance, transport, manufacturing, mining, energy, water, construction.
Typical jobs which have begun evaporating include secretaries, accounts and filing clerks, sales and travel agents, librarians, finance and insurance clerks and credit controllers.
Over the past two decades, for example - Britain has created 2.3m more jobs in high skilled technology areas against a reduction of 1.2m job in the middle-paid area. Paradoxically at the bottom of the payscale another 2m jobs have been created – inevitably with poor salaries, conditions and job satisfaction (flipping burgers for example). Interestingly, 22% of British jobs require the academic educational attainment of an 11-year old. Inevitably these jobs lack job satisfaction and are not immune to automation.
In our engineering environment, jobs which have changed or disappeared include such areas as clerical processing, administration, drafting, manufacturing, costing, maintenance and plant operations. In a process or manufacturing plant, even such critical jobs as electricians, fitters and engineers are less in demand than they were a decade ago.
And don’t think that working in an IT environment makes your job secure. We all know what happened to many web design jobs (tweaking html pages). Much of this work of coding and laying out web pages has been automated (with software).
Abilities required today
Employers today are after people who are digitally savvy, able to manage others, show significant creativity and problem solving ability and are entrepreneurial in their thinking. They must also be able to handle an ambiguous and rapidly changing environment. These skills are difficult for any computer to replicate.
The emphasis throughout the world is still on achieving a university-style, classical education rather than on completing an apprenticeship or a qualification in a more technical career. This needs to change. We need to focus on where the jobs are. There also needs to be a dramatic increase in employee-owned businesses - we need to become entrepreneurs to create our own jobs. Sadly, however, big business, still dominates.
Jobs which are secure
The safest jobs are in engineering and computing. And perhaps applied science. People are needed to develop, apply and maintain technologies which are replacing humans.
How do you stay employed?
Examine your job and identify whether a computer program can automate it. If it is highly skilled, requiring considerable creativity, it is an unlikely candidate for automation. However, if it is repetitive in nature it would be easy to replace. Generally, if you work in an area of skilled engineering or technology you will find that your job is unlikely to be automated quickly.
Keep in touch with the work environment and watch what new jobs are being created. reskill for these if you are unsure where yours is heading; either formally, through courses, or informally, through on-the-job training.
Thanks to the UK Government Commission For Employment and Skills (quoted in The Daily Telegraph) for those interesting statistics quoted above.
With this in mind Michael Fry and T. Lewis’ comment rings true: The more things change, the more they remain... insane.
Yours in engineering learning