The effects of outsourcing have played a role in the US labor market for a long time. In recent years, however, the power and speed of technological change has increasingly been singled out as a cause of job losses. Employees in the service industry, such as sales people and cashiers, are in the process of being replaced by auto-service terminals.
Even accountants are not safe because a large part of their work can be performed by computerized software. Taxi drivers could one day become the victims of Google’s driverless automobile.
This trend is nothing new. Technological innovation often has the effect of making certain types of jobs obsolete.
Exactly how disruptive will these changes be in the years to come? A 2013 study by researchers at Oxford University analyzed statistics from the US Department of Labor to calculate the likelihood of specific jobs being replaced by computers. The project studied 702 occupations and rated them according to how easily they could be replaced by a computer program. The more barriers to a job being computerized, the less likely it was it would happen.
The study found a strong negative correlation between the likelihood a particular job will be computerized and the education required to do the job and the remuneration attached to the position. Low-wage, low-education jobs were therefore more likely to be computerized than highly paid jobs requiring higher levels of education.
Among the 702 job types that were analyzed, 47% were considered to be at high risk of being replaced by computers. Sectors in particular danger include sales, service and office administration.
The study identified three attributes that make it less likely that a specific job will be computerized. These include jobs that require manual dexterity or the ability to work in awkward and cramped positions; creative intelligence or original thinking; or social skills such as persuasion, negotiation and perceptiveness.
The study seems to underscore the importance of acquiring vital skills not only at the beginning of one’s career but also to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in a particular industry. An online college degree from a reputable institution could go a long way toward achieving this goal.
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