By Sam Madden, co-founder of PocketSuite.
By 2018, it's predicted that more than 3 million workers across the globe will be supervised by "robobosses." One study even states that 47 percent of total U.S. employment is in the "high-risk" category of being automated. These are just some of the bold and increasingly accepted statements made by technologists and media pundits.
But if we take a look at history, the automation or "robotization" of labor is nothing new: Technology has been a labor disruptor for over 100 years. I provide business software to thousands of different small businesses, and speak with professionals every single day. Many are curious as to whether their own profession will become obsolete.
If we take a good look at recent data showing employment trends, an increasingly consistent pattern shows which industries are next to be automated -- and which are exempted (for now).
Where Robotic Automation Will Take Hold
When you review labor disruption trends past and present, the types of labor that become automated by technology have broad similarities. Jobs that have seen cyclical and structural declines in employment include routine manual jobs, like those in manufacturing.
As technological advancements begin to accelerate, positions that require routine human labor are expected to be disrupted. Retail salespeople, for example, face a 92 percent probability of being automated, according to data from Bloomberg. Taxi drivers face an 89 percent probability, and receptionists a 96 percent probability.
The Service Economy May Be Immune
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows us what types of industries specifically have been most sensitive to advancements in technology. Since 1980:
- Employment among machine operators and assemblers has declined by 3 percent every year. That is to say, in 1980, this industry made up 9.9 percent of the U.S. workforce. In 2005, it made up just 4.6 percent.
- Jobs in the production/craft sector have declined by 1.9 percent each year. It now makes up just 3 percent of U.S. employment.
- Jobs in the transportation/construction/mining/agriculture industry have declined by 0.7 percent every year.
- Clerical/retail sales positions have declined by 0.3 percent every year.
But according to the NBER, service occupations (beauticians, child care workers, cleaners, handymen and other home service type workers) have been the fastest growing part of U.S. employment. Jobs in this sector have actually increased by 1.1 percent every year since 1980. It now makes up 12.9 percent of U.S. employment.
Surprised by this? You're not alone. When the average person thinks about jobs that robots are likely to replace, they immediately think of low-wage positions and jobs that require below-average education. The majority of workers in service occupations have no post-secondary education, and the average hourly wages for service professionals are indeed on the lower end of the aforementioned industry classifications.
When you drill down to its core, however, service occupations are one of the few workforce areas where trust and direct human relationships are still so crucial. Think about the trust needed to leave your child with a babysitter, the uniqueness of each job needed when you call a handyman, or the skills needed to train a dog with a specific temperament, history and behavior.
It might not be obvious, but the very traits that make these occupations so defensible against artificial intelligence and other technology are the connections that we as humans value so deeply. As the years go on, we'll continue to see fewer and fewer humans working at check-out counters, driving (or flying) us around, and making the material items we use every day.
But for the skilled service economy, D-Day isn't something that's around the corner. Rather than disrupting it, technology to help empower the service profession is growing a lot faster to nurture client relationships.
Sam Madden is the co-founder of PocketSuite, a mobile platform empowering any service professional to run their business from the palm of their hand.