What's Happening?

Article: How safe is your job?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Recently, Oxford academics published research on future employment and how susceptible jobs are to automation. Their conclusion, “intelligent machines are becoming more sophisticated and are expanding their skills, moving up the corporate ladder, showing increased productivity and retention rates, and threatening their human counterparts”. The researchers estimate that 47% of US jobs could be automated within the next two decades, even if half that number was correct, the employment market is going to change.

As a colleague of mine frequently says, “… in an effort to broaden the conversation how does this affect me?” Well, if you are sitting at a desk, or driving a taxi, stop for a moment and ask: could a robot or machine do this job better?

We all know of Uber and how it has disrupted the taxi industry. But Uber isn’t finished revolutionising this sector, its Chief Executive, Travis Kalanick, recently said “the service would be a whole lot cheaper if you weren’t paying for that other dude in the car”.

Which jobs, I hear you ask, are less likely to be automated? Well, the researchers suggest roles requiring employees to think on their feet and come up with creative and original ideas, for example artists, designers or engineers, hold a significant advantage in the face of automation. All of which means if an occupation involves a high degree of social intelligence and negotiating skills, such as managerial positions, these are considerably less at risk from machines.

Medical professionals, social workers, nurses, therapists and psychologists are among the least likely occupations to be taken over as assisting and caring for others, which involves empathy, is a crucial part of the job. In contrast, certain sales jobs like telemarketers and bank clerks, even though these may involve interactive tasks but do not necessarily require a high degree of social intelligence, leave them exposed to automation. If you are in doubt about this “rise in the machines” examine the banking sector in Ireland. Today banks seek to have customers use their automated in-house machines for most transactions rather than have face-to-face dealings with staff, add in the increase in telephone and online banking and the centralising of decision making to a bank’s headquarters and we see a contraction in the number of bank branches open nationwide and a reduction in staffing levels.

For those that are interested, the Oxford researchers calculated how susceptible to automation each job is based on nine key skills required to perform it; social perceptiveness, negotiation, persuasion, assisting and caring for others, originality, fine arts, finger dexterity, manual dexterity and the need to work in a cramped work space.

Heaslip, Graham. "How safe is your job?" Galway Independent, Business section, 22 March, 2017.


Professor Graham Heaslip, GMIT