Telephone switchboard operators are a thing of the past—the kind of job we only encounter in black-and-white movies. And just as technology and automation rendered those workers obsolete, in the modern age, it's also eradicating all sorts of other jobs; bank tellers, toll booth operators, and pharmacy clerks all may soon be a distant memory. We’re already starting to self-checkout at the grocery store, put in our own orders at McDonald's—and watch robots make our sushi.
At Foxconn, the world's leading electronics manufacturer that currently employs 1.2 million workers and 10,000 robots, humans are rapidly being replaced. Over the next three years, it plans to up the number of androids to 500,000.
Think your job is safe? You might want to think again. "The set of jobs that won't someday be done by robots is actually rather small and shrinking, as technology advances," says Mani Subramani, an associate professor with the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Silicon Valley computer engineer Martin Ford, author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, agrees. "Jobs that are in any way routine—including skilled jobs—are going to be threatened by automation," he says. Working in a cutting-edge field won't necessarily protect you, either. "New industries that rely on a lot of technology will be more—not less—likely to automate or use labor-saving technology," Ford says.
In fact, increasing automation played a significant role in our current economic crisis, according to Ford. "Big companies have gotten a lot more efficient and need less workers," he says. "This is a factor, to some extent, in the poor job market and flat wages for new college grads."
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So what kinds of fields are a good bet for job seekers? Which industries should you aim for if you want to avoid being replaced by R2-D2? "Jobs that are non-routine or creative, or which involve complex human interaction, tend to be safer," Ford explains.
The good news is that there are plenty of emerging or growing industries—like those listed below—that will require a human touch for a long time to come.