With the increase of automation and machines in the workplace, it’s now harder than ever for individuals to pick a future-proof career that offers real job security. Computers and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are transforming the modern workplace and rendering many previously secure and valued roles worthless.

There’s nothing particularly new about computers performing human jobs – after all, the assembly line method of manufacturing that became so prevalent in the last century soon moved from manual worker production to manufacturing by robots. However, the new age of automation we currently face heralded by increasingly sophisticated computers is starting to affect not just production sectors but all areas of work. Indeed, employment experts believe around 60% of the tasks involved in most jobs could be performed equally well – if not better – by technology rather than by humans.

How automation is changing the world of work

While this move to automation is great from an employer’s point of view and brings considerable savings in both time and money, it rather begs the question – just what jobs are going to be left for humans to earn a living? The unstoppable progression of technology is certainly bringing huge benefits to our lives, but many experts suggest the very same tech could also be putting our chances of future employment at risk.

Computers and, in particular, AI are now so advanced that they are becoming capable of autonomous thought and decision making – the kinds of duties and roles we humans used to have to do manually.

Whether you realize it or not, you have probably already used AI in many of the apps you use on your cell phone. Software like Google Photos makes extensive use of AI with its sorting functions and an ability to organize photos into albums by content. In fact, the app is now so smart it can even recognize faces, objects, and landmarks and makes easy work of cataloging your photos automatically into groups.

Also, if you listen to any of the popular streaming music services like Spotify, you’ll likely have enjoyed the app’s ability to suggest new music to you based upon your previous listening choices – again, a service driven 100% by AI.

However, while these services are useful and huge time-savers from a personal point of view, the same tech is now making its way into the workplace and making considerable changes to how – and, in some cases, where – we work.

The rise of the machines and those jobs most at risk

There is a growing trend for employers to rely on automation, mostly in highly repetitive, monotonous, and time-consuming tasks. Intelligent software is now starting to usurp previously-assured roles, and, in many cases, employers are finding machines can do a quicker and more accurate job than their human counterparts.

Industry experts believe the move to autonomous machines will only increase in the future as the scope and intelligence of machines and robotics improve. Consequently, if you want to guarantee yourself a job in the future, you would be well-advised to train in a career that needs human involvement, creativity, and hands-on attention.

According to a report conducted in 2016, it’s expected around 16% of jobs in the USA will be replaced by automation by 2025 – with the possible creation of 9% new roles in positions such as data science and robot management. The movement is no longer mere speculation – the rise of the machines is already happening, and if you’re to have reasonable employment prospects in the future, you’ll need to act fast.

Perhaps against expectations, the jobs most at risk aren’t sorted by traditional blue-collar or white-collar roles but rather by the amount of routine or repetitive tasks that are involved. For example, jobs like book-keepers, legal secretaries, mail carriers, and bill collectors are in the high-risk category as jobs that feature largely recurring tasks that are easily-replicated by software.

However, the march to automation isn’t limited to specific industries. For example, self-driving cars are on the horizon, which is expected to eventually replace old-style haulers and taxi drivers, while Amazon has already begun testing drone delivery units to replace couriers.

The damage caused by COVID on employment prospects

2020 certainly was a year like no other, and Coronavirus has had a huge impact on all areas of our lives, including business and work. From isolation to distancing and lockdowns, COVID-19 changed the way many of us did our jobs, forcing us into home-working roles rather than attending the office and further increasing our reliance on technology. More worrying, however, is the fact the virus successfully exposed many roles as being superfluous – so-called ‘pointless’ jobs.

As employers adapted to this New Normal, many increasingly began to realize they could operate just as effectively with fewer employees, instead replacing them with technology.

It’s estimated there were a staggering 400 million job losses globally in the second quarter of 2020 – yet productivity increased by 4% over the year, largely down to increased use of autonomous software and robotics.

Despite the promise of safe vaccines being rolled-out over the coming weeks and months and a return to something nearing our previous normality, it seems highly unlikely that employers will simply revert to their old ways and just re-employ those staff they found they could function perfectly well without. Rather, it’s much more probable those jobs are gone forever, a fact that will further compound the pressure on job-seekers as fewer roles exist in the future.

Advice for finding a future-proof career

As mentioned above, computers and AI can be a highly effective solution when it comes to performing mundane or repetitive tasks. However, they rather fall down when trying to fill creative, empathetic, or hands-on jobs. For this reason, experts suggest some roles will still remain in demand in the years to come.

Below are just a few positions that are unlikely to be replaced by machines and could offer the most secure and future-proof positions in an increasingly automated world.

Train as a skilled tradesman/tradeswoman

In recent times, there has been a huge shift away from training in the recognized trades, with many students choosing formal qualifications and college/university degrees. Indeed, the tide away from learning these disciplines has led to an overall shortage of skilled labor in many nations across the world. The apparent logic seems to have been that attaining formal qualifications in other subjects would offer greater job security and higher earnings, but the skills shortage is now a real issue in many countries. 

With such a shortage of skilled workers, there are now great career opportunities to be had by training in the main disciplines. Electricians, plumbers, builders, and mechanics are all in high demand. Better yet, these are all skills that are extremely unlikely to ever be replaced by technology or computers.

Take up a career in the medical, dental, or nursing sectors

While robots and AI are increasingly being used to help with medical procedures, we’re a long way off ever seeing the day that either will have the dexterity, skills, or compassion that are needed in nursing and healthcare.

Complex medical or dental work will always require the skills of humans, while the traits of empathy needed in nursing are most definitely not an area where computers perform well. Patients need the compassion of nursing staff to help them in their recovery or while they receive treatment. It can keep them calm, help them to feel less scared, and can ensure that people are not alone when they pass away.

Moreover, many everyday decisions taken by healthcare professionals have serious ethical and moral implications. This is not the type of responsibility we will be handing to computers anytime soon. Healthcare also often requires a great deal of creativity to adapt to the particular requirements of patients – again, not skills computers can handle. Healthcare staff, therefore, will continue to be in demand for a long time to come, so you won’t have to worry about taking your degree only to not have good job prospects. It will, in fact, be the opposite.

While computers and AI aren’t being used in the healthcare industry for the above reasons, they are aiding other areas in the healthcare industry, and it isn’t affecting job prospects in the healthcare industry. In fact, it is improving them. For example, gaining a nursing degree is possible now, thanks to online courses. Student nurses can take advantage of the innovations and improvements that are being made daily to AI and computers, earn their degree, and have a solid nursing career option waiting for them when they graduate, as hospital demands have never been higher. Plus, with more and more degree options open to them, it allows them to expand their career opportunities, which offers long term security. For example, you can gain a masters in nursing education online and become a nurse educator. There will always be a need to have nursing staff, and so demands for nurse educators is high. The benefit of earning a degree like this is that it helps patients, too. You can pour all of your knowledge and experience into the next generation of nurses, even if you want to take a step back from providing the healthcare yourself, and still ensure patients have the best care possible. Plus, this type of career allows you to continue to teach nursing to the next generation in-person or, as tech develops, online. Therefore, your job will never be at risk.

Work in the creative arts

While AI is undoubtedly transforming many aspects of work, computers still have big problems coming up with creative or artistic work, so a career in jobs like marketing, advertising, design, or video production will continue to offer great job security in the future. Somewhat ironically, you’ll likely end up using computers a great deal in these types of roles, but the tech is employed purely as tools of the trade and will never replace the creative thought processes of humans. 

To break into the creative arts, you’ll need to possess some underlying talents (e.g., art or photography skills for design, a knowledge of an instrument for music production, etc.), which is then often honed by further formal training – possibly at college or university. However, unlike some of the other jobs listed here, often just having latent skills can see you breaking into the industry without the need for formal training.

Take up a career in social care or childcare

The care industries require levels of empathy and understanding and an ability to find ad hoc solutions to individual problems that simply can’t be programmed into software. Perhaps more to the point, most parents simply wouldn’t entrust the care of their child or an elderly relative to a robot.

Sure, there are bad carers out there, but most of us would prefer to make that personality judgment ourselves through human contact rather than by trying to evaluate the morality of a computer. Moreover, humans are more capable of showing levels of tenderness, love, support, and guidance than could ever be replicated by a machine.

However, while a career in the care sector should offer on-going employment opportunities, these jobs remain some of the lowest-paid. While that might change in the future, it’s still worth bearing in mind if money is important to you.

A fourth industrial revolution and the jobs that haven’t been invented yet

Employment experts suggest we are currently in the throes of a fourth industrial revolution driven largely by AI and computers. Just like other huge industrial changes before it, the new age of work will bring about jobs that have been required before.

For example, the invention of the internet also brought massive opportunities for web designers, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) specialists, online bloggers, and social media marketing consultants, etc. New technologies always bring new opportunities.

In the same way, there are likely countless positions we haven’t dreamed up yet but which will be required moving forward. The key is to be adaptable and make your skill base as rounded as possible to ensure your employability in the new job market. Where once individuals might have worked their entire lives in just one job, analysts now suggest we’ll be far more likely to hold multiple different jobs through our careers, often shifting sideways or even moving between industries.

If you want to make your future opportunities as assured as possible, the jobs listed above should remain the most secure in our brave new world. However, having experience in different industries and a wide knowledge of business and commerce at any level will still make you more employable than your competitors.