You might not be in your dream job. Most likely, you don’t make as much money as you would like.
But let’s face it: Today’s employment market has improved substantially over the past several years. The nation already is nearly back to what economists call full employment, with a U.S. jobless rate easing to near 4 percent.
But that favorable trend masks a lot of pain, dislocation and disruption for people in certain occupations, with more coming. Robotics, artificial intelligence and other pressures are almost certain to alter the employment prospects for millions of Americans in the coming years, for better or worse. Here are some of the ways jobs and employment could change over the next five or 10 years:
Robotics and automation already have made huge inroads, especially in manufacturing. Get ready for more changes ahead. Nearly half of American jobs, 47 percent, are at risk of being automated over the next two decades, according to a 2013 study by Oxford University’s Department of Engineering.
The researchers examined more than 700 occupations, examining the tasks workers perform, the skills required and the engineering obstacles currently preventing computerization. Tasks less at risk are those requiring creative and social skills.
Jobs in transportation, logistics and office administration are at high risk for replacement. Driverless vehicles, including big trucks, already are on the highways. While robots mainly have been utilized so far in manufacturing, millions of service jobs could be next, according to the Oxford report. Automation in service industries could be more significant, given that the service sector has a lot more jobs than manufacturing and agriculture.
A recent Ball State University study listed a number of occupations at risk of being automated. Among them: telemarketers, insurance underwriters, tax-return preparers, watch repairers and people who type in data. By contrast, occupations with a low risk of displacement include recreational therapists, social workers, mechanic supervisors, health technicians and hearing-aid specialists.
Technological advances are a double-edged sword. They will wipe out some jobs but create others.
In retail, for example, automation has resulted in self-service cashier lanes. But the pending adoption of computerized reading glasses or goggles will give shoppers the ability to walk down grocery aisles and spot foods with certain traits such as those that are gluten-free or vegan, said John Challenger, CEO of outplacement-firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Other emerging products or apps will allow you to detect and identify desired products more easily with your smartphone.
“Some of these new technologies will ultimately create jobs,” he said. “Workers with experience using augmented or virtual reality will see the most opportunities, as will those who can help guide customers in this new experience or train fellow staff.”
A recent Ball State University study listed a number of occupations at risk of being automated. Among them: telemarketers, insurance underwriters, tax-return preparers, watch repairers and people who type in data. (Photo: Tom Tingle/Special for The Republic)
Eventually, the adoption of robots and automation will become national trends. But so far, especially for robots, the impact has been concentrated. The Brookings Institution recently mapped the prevalence of industrial robots and noted a heavy cluster in Midwestern states and those in the Upper South where the auto industry is focused.
More than half the nation’s 233,300 industrial robots are “burning welds, painting cars, assembling products, handling materials or packaging things in just 10 Midwestern and Southern states,” the report said. Michigan alone has 12 percent of the nation’s industrial robots, compared to 13 percent for all Western states combined. Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee also use robots extensively.
The increased use of industrial robots will eliminate some jobs, including dangerous, repetitive and physically demanding ones, but it could create new ones. In addition to engineers who will be needed to design these machines and technicians to maintain and program them, others eventually will work side by side with robots, said Heni Ben Amor, an assistant engineering professor at Arizona State University.
“In the past, there was a human/robot physical barrier because robots can be dangerous if you get hit by one,” he said. “The new trend will bring the two worlds together.”
For example, he said humans could do work requiring physical dexterity, such as attaching small screws, while robots do heavy lifting or more repetitive tasks.
Ben Amor said he’s excited about the potential for job gains with advances in robotics. “It’s going to create way more jobs than the number lost,” he predicted.
Ben Amor considers driverless vehicles to fall under the banner of robotics, as both involve machines or systems perceiving changes in the environment and taking actions in response. He believes Arizona could have a bright future in the development of driverless cars and trucks, given that Uber, Alphabet, General Motors and Intel all have tested such vehicles on public roads around the Valley.
The unusual concentration of tests here has attracted the attention of a lot of smart students and young entrepreneurs who want to work for those companies or start their own, he said.
Still, the adoption of robots and artificial intelligence often causes public anxiety over job losses. This anxiety spills over into politics. “It is telling that the robot incidence in red states that voted for President Trump in November is more than twice that in the blue states that voted for Hillary Clinton,” Brookings noted in its report.
While Arizona has fewer robots and thus less robot-induced anxiety, the state lags in other respects affecting jobs, prosperity, and employment.