Students preparing for the workforce will want to be sure their job will still be performed by humans in the future, said Dr. Kristen Broady, a Fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.
Not all the jobs vulnerable to being overtaken by automation are as obvious as one might expect, said Broady during her Thursday lecture at Gettysburg College titled “Race and Jobs At Risk of Being Automated In The Age of COVID-19.”
Speaking at Gettysburg College’s Masters Hall, Broady listed the jobs employing most Americans that are at high risk of being automated as assessed by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Included with each occupation were the number of Americans employed in the job, as well as the percentage of the job’s tasks that were vulnerable to automation.
On a list of 30 occupations employing 36 million Americans, cashiers, retail salespeople, secretaries and administrative assistants, and freight, stock and material movers topped the charts.
When Broady mentioned accountants and auditors were also on the list, a few attending the lecture hosted by the economics department raised an eyebrow.
“Accounting professors hate this presentation. They’re like, ‘no, you need us!’” she said, pointing out that 98 percent of those tasks can be automated. “I guess we need you to train the accountants that will program TurboTax.”
On the list of 30 least likely occupations to become automated were registered nurses, chief executives, marketing and sales managers, physicians and surgeons, engineers, computer systems analysts. The most jobs that should remain belonged to teachers, instructors and school administrators. Currently, 22 million Americans occupy these jobs, she said.
“These are jobs that care for young children, or elderly and disabled people,” she said. “Your really have to think quick on your toes, not something a computer or machine could easily predict. These are jobs where you’re constantly thinking or adjusting.”
Having witnessed college lectures broadcast to thousands of students at a time during the pandemic, Broady apologized to the attending professors before offering her concerns about the jobs of undergraduate professors.
“No offense to everyone here, but I’m not sure how much longer they’re going to need all of us,” she said.
As it relates to race, Black and Hispanic workers are overrepresented in 13 of the 30 jobs most likely to be overtaken by automation, totaling 6.4 million black and Hispanic workers, she said. But Black people are only overrepresented in only five jobs least likely to be impacted by automation. Hispanics are not overrepresented in any of them, Broady said.
In September, the national unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent, but was at 7.9 percent for Blacks and 6.3 percent for Hispanics, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The pandemic increased the likelihood that employers will turn toward automation, Broady said, noting that machines are efficient. They cannot be late for work or get sick, nor do they require healthcare or childcare.
Temporary closures and lower demand at the start of the pandemic also provided some industries ample time to install technology that would limit the need for part of the human workforce.
While automation may eliminate some jobs, it will also lead to increase employment opportunities in other fields, Broady said.
Colleges and universities have a responsibility to train students for fields that will exist in the future with the software and hardware that match industry standards, Broady said. Partnering with businesses during education and working out internship programs are two of the most successful methods, she added. She also offered advice to students.
“Major in something that will exist and requires critical thinking,” she said. “Be prepared to keep continually learning. Automation can be amazing, and you can have a lucrative career working in it and with it.”