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Could robots steal your job? Nine careers that could be ‘at risk’ in the future

PUBLISHED: 05:30 19 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:52 23 October 2018

Desktop robots: Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Desktop robots: Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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What jobs will be gone in 20 years time? Lynne Mortimer looks at the most vulnerable.

There have always been jobs that disappear, supplanted by new ideas and technologies.

There is little call for galley slaves or pyramid builders, these days. The alchemists and professional crossbow men have largely disappeared. And how’s this for a lost occupation? A bead-piercer. Yes, they made holes in beads.

The prosperous wool towns of East Anglia, supporting cottage industries in spinning, dyeing and weaving would eventually lose their trade to the wool and cotton mills of the north as the industrial revolution pushed people from the countryside, into the towns and cities.

The gaslighters of Victorian Britain would light the lamps at dusk and extinguish them at dawn. The gas lights that remain today light and dim automatically. How many oarsmen plied their trade across the Thames in times past? They are gone... partly for health and safety reasons, I imagine.

The year 1994 was the United Nations Year of the Family and, at the time, I spoke to a number of East Anglian families who could trace their history back 100 years. The predominant trades for men were horsemen, working on the land, and boat men taking cargoes of coal, grain and other goods along the waterways. Women who worked were usually in service... My auntie Millie, who lived in Haddiscoe, was a reluctant kitchen maid at the vicar’s house, just down the road from her home.

My mum was a telephonist, connecting people in homes, offices and phone boxes all over the country. When Subscriber Trunk Dialling came in, she would still connect transfer (reverse) charge calls and take 999 calls. Today, the telephonists are gone.

In my lifetime, the typing pool has all but vanished. As late as the early 80s most businesses of any size employed a number of people to type up invoices and letters.

Fast forward 20 years from now and what job prospects will clerical or unskilled workers enjoy? Not every task will be taken over by Artificial Intelligence but as AI becomes even more intelligent, it is tipped to take over parts of professional occupations (eg in law and accountancy) too. Robots have been doing the repetitive drudge work in factories for decades. But now, I read, they can flip burgers, sort unripe tomatoes from the ripe and lay bricks. According to commentators, closest to vanishing point are:

• Supermarket check-out staff: Self-checkouts and scanners are beginning to take over. How often are all the check-outs manned? It happens most often at Christmas and on bank holiday weekends.

• Bank clerks: We are already losing bank branches and bank people. Remember the 70s TV commercial (was it for Midland?) that had the bank manager in the wardrobe? Then it was all about individual service. In my bank, there is a meet and greeter who indicates which queue is best for me. It’s usually the queue for a machine. In 20 years we will be using apps and online banking 99 per cent of the time.

• Sales assistants: The number of people employed in shops in the UK fell by 185,000 between 2008 and 2012. as more shops closed, and retailers cut back staff numbers. There is also a relentless move to online purchasing. I believe, however, that store that offer outstanding customer service will survive and thrive.

• Printers: Technology in the manufacturing process has precipitated a huge decline in jobs in the printing business due and there is also reduced demand as people download digital books and periodicals. Real books are, however, making a comeback.

• Postal workers: electronic greetings have a foothold and the cost of a stamp makes despatching piles of Christmas cards an expensive option. Many people now post season’s greetings on their Facebook pages.

• Warehouse staff: More automation means machines can locate exact areas, then pick and pack the items. How long will it be before we have drone and driverless-vehicle deliveries?

• Call centre staff: Bernard Louvat at tech firm Nuance, believes clever chatbots will replace most call centre staff within 10 years. “A virtual assistant can handle 60%-80% of all customer conversations now without any need for a human agent to intervene - five years ago it would have been 25%-30%,” he told the BBC.

• Telemarketing: We used to be angered by human cold-callers but now it’s automated calls with robotic voices that send us crazy − there’ll be a lot more of those.

• Care assistants: A great deal of hope is vested in the idea that older people who need help may be able to stay in their homes with the help of smart robots. Can I wait as long as 20 years?...

But while many jobs may disappear, there will be new and not yet imagined jobs created. But for those thinking about a career now, the careers least likely to be automated in the near to mid future are listed (source: The Future of Employment) as mental health and substance abuse social workers; occupational therapists; dietitians and nutritionists; physicians and surgeons; and clergy. Nurses who interact with patients, and people who are called out for emergency repairs, eg plumbers, are also tipped to be safe.

But don’t have nightmares; do sleep well.

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