Is automation the biggest threat to your job in 2019?

Automation is replacing jobs at an ever-growing pace, but should you be worried? Here’s what to know about automation and how to prepare.

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If you’ve been hearing about the latest developments in technology, or reading speculative prediction articles about what the near future might look like, you might be concerned that your job could be lost—replaced by automation. If that’s the case, you’re not alone; 65 percent of people in the United States believe that automation will definitely or probably lead to significant job losses, and other countries have an even higher percentage of belief in that eventual reality.

It’s natural to be concerned about preserving your livelihood, but is automation really the biggest threat to your job in 2019 and the years that follow?

The short-term threat of automation

There’s little question that automation could feasibly pose a threat to almost any job. Between 2000 and 2010, it’s estimated that the United States lost more than 5.6 million manufacturing jobs, and 85 percent of those losses were due to technological change, including the development of automation. That’s only one industry, and one especially vulnerable to automation, but as automation technology grows more advanced, other industries could hypothetically see similar losses.

One study estimated that the United States could lose up to 73 million jobs due to automation by 2030, with even more losses throughout the world. The study is based on an analysis that about half of worldwide jobs have at least some potential to be automated. But this also affords an out; the study estimates that somewhere between 16 million and 54 million of those employees with lost jobs could be retrained for a different job, or a different field.

We also need to consider that this is a timescale of more than a decade, and these losses won’t occur all at once. Even if we assume a worst-case scenario of 73 million lost jobs and a linear pattern of growth, that would amount to fewer than 7 million jobs lost in 2019. With more than 150 million current jobs, that would lead to a worst-case scenario of a 4.6 percent chance of job loss—hardly something to be worked up about.

Job creation and higher skills

It’s also important to realize that “job loss” may not be as devastating as it sounds. For millions of people, “job loss due to automation” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be fired and unable to find work. Instead, it might mean working alongside a machine that automates some of your responsibilities, or learning the skills to develop and refine those automated processes, or getting a promotion, or working in a new position within the company. There are dozens, if not hundreds of options for workers willing to take them on, and since the transition to more automation will happen gradually, you should have plenty of time to work on them.

Other economic threats

In 2019, automation may pose a threat to your job, but there are other economic threats to consider. The United States stock market has officially logged its worst performance year since 2008, and experts are divided on whether 2019 will be a year of slowed growth, a year of progress, or a year of a full-on recession. On top of that, a looming trade war, rising interest rates, and other harsh business conditions could easily compromise even the best operating businesses—especially in vulnerable industries like banking, or those with oversea dependencies.

Though these threats may or may not pan out, they’ll likely have a bigger influence over the near future of your job than new kinds of automation.

Job-specific considerations

Not all jobs are equally under threat of automation. Multiple analyses have attempted to predict which jobs are most and least likely to be automated, with jobs like data entry and tax preparation most likely to be automated, and jobs like recreational therapy and choreography least likely to be automated.

Several factors can diminish your job’s vulnerability to automation, including:

  • High-level thinking. Machines and algorithms can execute repeatable tasks easily, but they aren’t so good at strategizing or critical thinking.
  • Tech development. For the time being, algorithms can’t create or manage themselves.
  • People skills. Jobs that require human interaction also can’t be replaced by machines or algorithms—at least not yet.

How big a threat is automation in 2019?

So, is automation a major threat to your job this year? The short answer is “probably not.” Even at its worst, automation is only going to threaten a fraction of jobs each year, and not all threats will result in you losing your job entirely. Besides, there are bigger and more pressing economic threats to consider, especially if your job has features that render it unlikely to be automated. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the advances of automation in your industry, but this should give you a better context in which to view them.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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