When I was a child in the late 60’s there weren’t that many cars parked on our street. Few people had one. We lived at No.13 and we were the first house with a car. The next was way up at No.29. What there were though were no less than three TV repair vans sporting logos like DER and Radio Rentals.
Back then, being a TV repair man seemed like a good career option. The technology was highly unreliable, our set seemed to eat valves with a relish. No sooner had one repair been made than another was needed. And all that despite only being black and white and supporting just three channels. No wonder people rented to avoid the repair bills.
It is all a far cry from today. I recently read an article claiming that modern TVs were likely to last anything from 16 to 50 years, assuming of course there are no changes to transmission standards (like the switch from analogue to digital). They rarely go wrong, and if they do they are now so complicated that they could never be repaired in situ in your lounge.
In fact, I can’t remember the last time I met a TV repair person. Satellite installers perhaps, but not someone ready and able to whip the back off the set and get it working again. It is a career that’s all but disappeared.
So, which careers might be the next to go the same way? Could it be yours or mine?
The statistics being quoted are quite eye-watering. Many economists are saying at least a third of all current jobs will be lost to automation within 20 years. The Bank of England has suggested that the UK could lose as many as 15million jobs. And we, as consumers, are partly driving that trend.
I have recently attended several digital transformation events. At each event, a broadly consistent message was delivered: around two thirds of all consumers are now happy to engage in a fully automated journey provided they get the outcome they want quickly and easily. Research even suggests we get a buzz out of solving our own problems on-line. That’s a massive wake up call to anyone who thinks sloppy customer service is OK.
So how vulnerable is your job or career?
The general view is that administrative jobs will be hit hard, especially those that involve repetitive input and analysis of data. Things like processing applications, financial returns or loan applications. With customers increasingly doing their own data input and algorithms analysing the results the jobs will go.
Customer service jobs will be hit hard too. The trend towards on-line shopping seems unstoppable. Fewer shops equal fewer retail jobs. Receptionists will go too. I’ve stayed in several hotels recently, including Premier Inn, where checking in was via a console, not a person. I can’t remember the last time I bought a train ticket from a human or withdrew cash via a bank clerk. Call centres will go too, with the majority of customer queries dealt with via Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Restaurants will be hit. Only last night I ate in one where we ordered from the table via a tablet computer and paid the same way. The only human contact was the person who bought the (excellent) food to the table. The customer experience manager told us it means they now employ 50% less staff and have dramatically reduced complaints and wastage from incorrectly taken orders. In the US, some fast food chains are already experimenting with automated food preparation.
Bars won’t be the same. Automated drinks dispensers that utilise contactless payment will be the new norm apparently. You just take a glass, pay via your smart phone or contactless card and your drink will be available via self-service. It isn’t that far on from the self-serve facilities you already see in Pizza Hut and Subway.
Driving jobs are certain to go. Who needs taxi drivers (Uber or otherwise) if the vehicle is self-driving? And we will no doubt see automated delivery vans too. Not to mention the much-promoted idea of delivery by drone.
In the US, they think almost 60% of financial advisor jobs will go, thanks to AI and an increasingly regulated system. Reports suggest that the FSA are already looking into how automated services might work in the UK, especially for small investors.
Personalised, human service will become, I predict, a premium priced option in many aspects of life. How many will be prepared to pay the premium if the digital alternative works? You might start by asking how many would welcome back a trip to Blockbuster as a change from Netflix? Or buy milk from a home delivery service rather than the supermarket
My daughter wants to be a teacher. Is that a safe future choice? I’m not sure. In a world where e-learning is increasingly taking over from physical events in training rooms it seems only a matter of time before the same technologies impact schools and Universities. After all, our children are all now digital natives. Confident with things like iPads at an ever-younger age.
So, which jobs are likely to be the safest? Drawing on several sources the themes seem to be these:-
- Jobs that require genuine creativity. For example, inventing new solutions or products that are revolutionary rather than evolutionary. Scientists, engineers and designers are probably safe. Probably architects too.
- Jobs that require complex and probably long-term relationships. So, good sales people will be OK as will psychologists, therapists, doctors and nurses. Anything simple, short term and transactional will be automated.
- Jobs that are unpredictable and may require physical responses in multiple locations. Police, fire and paramedics spring to mind. As do emergency plumbers and electricians.
Will these jobs be safe forever? I doubt it. Artificial intelligence offers the potential for computer-based creativity. The hologram doctor on Star Trek might not be as far away as you think.
History repeating itself
We’ve seen this shift in working patterns happen before. The industrial revolution saw the majority of manual manufacturing roles disappear, and as times and social norms changed the need for butlers, footmen and maids diminished. It’s understandable that the ‘digital revolution’ will have a similar impact, new jobs will be created because of the technology. Or because people will crave some human contact in an increasingly automated world.
Everywhere I look at the moment, Concierge Services are cropping up because people are happy to pay people to make their lives easier. For example, a lifestyle concierge who can get you the tickets to that sold-out show or a table in the impossible to book restaurant. Or a wine concierge who will pick perfect bottles to go with that meal you are cooking to impress family and friends.
What jobs do you predict coming and going in the next decade?