The 10 Least (and Most) Automatable Careers

Posted By Terri Williams on September 6, 2017 at 11:00 am
The 10 Least (and Most) Automatable Careers

If finding a good job isn’t challenging enough, workers also have to dodge the landmine of potentially automatable careers. Some occupations that pay well and provide fulfilling work could also be victims of technological advances.

In fact, two recent reports reveal that automation presents a substantial threat to some U.S. jobs.

CBER Report

The first report, by the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) and the Rural Policy Institute’s Center for State Policy at Ball State University, reveals automation vulnerability by job title.

The 10 Most Automatable Occupations:

  1. Data entry keyers
  2. Mathematical science occupations, all others
  3. Telemarketers
  4. Insurance underwriters
  5. Mathematical technicians
  6. Sewers, hand
  7. Tax preparers
  8. Photographic process workers/processing machine operators
  9. Library technicians
  10. Watch repairers

On the other hand, these are the jobs at the other end of the spectrum:

The 10 Least Automatable Occupations:

  1. Recreational therapists
  2. Emergency management directors
  3. First-line supervisors of mechanics, installers, and repairers
  4. Mental health and substance abuse social workers
  5. Audiologists
  6. Healthcare social workers
  7. Occupational therapists
  8. Orthotists and prosthetists
  9. Health technologists and technicians, all other
  10. Hearing aid specialists

Note: Mathematical science occupations, all other excludes actuaries, mathematicians, operations research analysts, and statisticians. Health technologists and technicians, all other excludes hearing aid specialists, medical and clinical lab technologists and technicians, medical records technologists and technicians, and other occupations with specific classifications in U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

One of the study’s co-authors is Michael J. Hicks, director of the Ball State Center for Business & Economic Research and the George & Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University.

According to Hicks, “Generally, occupations that have a large share of routine tasks are at greatest risk of automation.” He explains, “This could come as either a full replacement of a job, or technology that allows one worker to perform the work done by several others.”

Hicks says occupations are classified as high risk, middle risk and low risk.

“For example, people who enter data or do telemarketing, and those who do basic mathematical processes like tax preparation or insurance underwriting are at greatest risk of automation.”

The report reveals that almost half of all low-skill jobs may be automated.

So, what are middle risk occupations? “Jobs like motel maid, which requires judgment and coordinating skills, and also customer service skills.”

Hicks says occupations that include a variety of tasks are not as easy to automate.

“But, automatic vacuums and computerized scheduling might cut their numbers.”

Jobs like audiologists, social workers, and recreational therapists are low risk occupations.

“These occupations are mostly full customer service or human to human interaction, but are not routine because they involve specialized care – and technology complements their labor,” Hicks says.

Citi GPS Report

The second study presents a similarly worrisome picture. According to “The Future is Not What It Used to Be,” a report by Citi GPS, up to 47% of U.S. jobs are at risk of automation.

The report lists transportation and logistics jobs, and office and administration support as the jobs with the highest risk of automation. The use of robots will significantly affect labor in vehicles and transportation equipment, machinery, and electronics and electrical equipment.

For one reason, the purchase of multi-purpose Industrial Robots is surging. In the U.S., there are 164 multi-purpose Industrial Robots per 10,000 people employed in manufacturing, compared to 478 per 10,000 in Korea, and just 36 per 10,000 in China.

However, Robotics is predicted to create half a million new jobs, including such occupations as robot engineers and technicians, and computer-controlled machine operators.

The Citi report also lists the four job skills or functions that greatly decrease the chance of being automated:

  • Originality: “The ability to come up with unusual or clever ideas about a given topic or situation, or to develop creative ways to solve a problem.”
  • Service Orientation: “Actively looking for ways to help people.”
  • Manual Dexterity: “The ability to quickly move your hand, your hand together with your arm, or your two hands to grasp, manipulate, or assemble objects.”
  • Gross Body Coordination: “The ability to coordinate the movement of your arms, legs, and torso together when the whole body is in motion.”

Citi’s institutional clients also offered their opinions in one of the report’s surveys. When asked, “What are the most promising industries and/or technologies you see ahead for new job creation?” the responses were as follows:

Response percentage Job
24% IT
19% Industrials
14% Health and Medical
8% Commodities
7% Financials

The digital economy will create a variety of jobs in IT, in fact, the IT skills gap worries most company executives. While demand for occupations may be declining, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for IT professionals will increase through 2024 as follows:

Job Projected increase
Information Security Analysts 18%
Computer Systems Analysts 21%
Software Developers 17%
Web Developers 27%
Computer Support Specialists 12%
Database Administrators 11%
Computer & Info Research Scientists 11%
Computer Network Architects 9%
Network & Computer Systems Admin 8%

Both the CDER report and Citi report underscore the importance of training for a job of the future. Full-time employees might consider it impossible to retrain while working and balancing other demands. But, online options can provide a ray of hope. According to Kristi Riordan, COO at the coding academy Flatiron School, “With the launch of our platform, we’re bringing the ability to change careers through code to those previously left out of the boot camp model – people holding full-time jobs, parents balancing packed schedules and students hundreds of miles from the nearest tech hub.”

However, IT workers now need more than just tech skills. For example, Joe Silverman, CEO of New York Computer Help, says his company is looking for a specific skill set in computer technicians.

“First, we are looking for customer-service skills, and this is something that a candidate is either born with or not; empathy cannot be taught, so this is the first trait we look for.”

Then, Silverman says he wants to be sure that there is a level of IT skills, whether in programming, PC repair, web design, etc.

“We need to see some basis of skills that we can build upon.”

Silverman also believes that social media management is important.

“Each candidate we hire must have the skills or the passion for this, since each one of our techs has a role in social media management, such as Instagram marketing, Facebook promotions, blog writing, and more social media support.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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