Robots Aren’t Just Destroying Jobs; They’re Changing Them

From convenience stores without cashiers to delivery services without drivers, it’s hard to deny that the nature of work is changing rapidly. To stay ahead of the curve, we need to do our best to track the workforce as it changes. What jobs are most vulnerable to automation? What jobs have already been automated? What roles are benefiting most from these shifts?

How did we identify changing jobs?

We analyzed three free-response questions from PayScale’s 2017 Compensation Best Practices Report to try to answer these questions as systematically as possible.

  1. Which jobs, if any, did you remove in 2016 because they became obsolete or were automated?
  2. What new jobs emerged in 2016?
  3. Which skills in particular (if any) are you struggling to find?

Since free-response questions are totally open-ended, identifying common stories in the answers can be quite difficult. Even if every respondent is having similar trouble finding skilled software developers, they might all have described their struggles in different terms in their responses. For that reason, as a data analyst, I can only say that our statistical methods have found common stories, not the most common stories.

What jobs and skills are changing?

With that caveat, a handful of clear patterns surfaced in our analysis. Jobs that can be automated are disappearing, and jobs that involve designing automated systems and rely fundamentally on human judgment are in high demand. Many people reported that receptionists and administrative assistants, labor-intensive data entry jobs, warehouse managers, and accountants of all kinds have been made obsolete or automated. Conversely, commonly reported emerging job areas included digital marketing, sales, business development and intelligence, data analysis and science, and engineering (both software and mechanical). Difficult-to-find skills included software engineering, commercial driving, business development and intelligence, and maintenance. Interestingly, many respondents also reported difficulty finding candidates with skills required for their particular industry.

What does it all mean?

Most of these results seem to outline the same story. Jobs that primarily consist of repetitive, menial tasks are being automated, while jobs that involve developing and analyzing those automated systems are in high demand. For instance, many menial data entry tasks can now be performed as reliably and more quickly by computers, leaving companies with mountains of newly useful data that need to be managed and analyzed.

At the same time, we can see that human judgment still hasn’t been automated. Commercial driver licenses and maintenance skills, both of which require substantial technical skill and reliable decision-making, are still in-demand and hard to find. More generally, industry specialization continues to pay dividends.

These results align with the common wisdom about the changing workplace: work is becoming more digital and more automated. As machines and software continue to improve at tasks that were previously thought to be beyond automation, it pays to be the automator, not the automatee.

Tell Us What You Think

Which jobs are most vulnerable to automation in your organization? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments.