The economy should muddle forward in 2016, with employers likely to match or exceed the 2.6 million jobs created during the last 12 months. But the mix of jobs will continue to shift, for one big reason we’re all very familiar with by now: the digital revolution.
McKinsey & Co. estimated recently that 45% of all activities humans perform in the workplace can be done by software or machines that already exist. That portion will most likely rise in the future. And it’s no longer just rote mechanical jobs that are vulnerable to automation. Even CEOs spend their time doing work that can be automated, according to McKinsey.
In many industries, robots may end up working alongside humans rather than replacing them completely. But workers in some industries seem especially vulnerable to technology. These are 5 categories of jobs, for instance, in which McKinsey estimates that somewhere between 85% and 100% of the labor can be done by machines rather than humans:
Production workers in industries such as textiles, packaging, coating, painting and meatcutting. Approximate number of such workers: 3.2 million. These are mostly lower-skill jobs that can be done by increasingly sophisticated machines—a trend that has been underway for years and shows no signs of abating.
Bookkeeping, accounting, auditing and billing clerks. Number of workers: 2.1 million. Software can now help individuals and small businesses track their bills, invoices, expenses and taxes, replacing the clerical staff who do much of this basic work. There's still strong demand for more sophisticated auditors and accountants who deal with complex tax and financial situations.
Mechanics and automotive technicians. Number of workers: 740,000. Vehicles are loaded with software these days, and fixing problems often requires digital updates rather than mechanical fixes. As more vehicles become connected to the Internet, software updates will be beamed straight to the vehicle, with no visit to the dealership required.
Construction equipment operators. Number of workers: 340,000. Increasingly efficient machines get more accomplished with fewer people—plus, robotic dozers and graders are on the way.
Bakers and butchers. Number of workers: 300,000. These might seem like hands-on jobs, but machinery now requires little but professional oversight.
Many of the jobs lost in these and other fields will be offset by newly created jobs, many of them relating to the digital technology that’s transforming the workplace. But some jobs that have been around for a while still seem safe. Here are 5 categories of jobs in which little or none of the work can be automated, according to McKinsey.
Freight, stock and material movers. Number of workers: 2.3 million. A lot of transportation work can be done by conveyor belts and other machines, but moving stuff around still requires a lot of people to maintain cargo facilities, handle pop-up problems, maintain equipment and supervise it all.
Home health aide. Number of workers: 800,000. The job requires a personal touch and the ability to respond to a patient’s needs.
Management analyst. Number of workers: 570,000. These professionals make strategic decisions based on data, financial performance and company priorities.
Sales managers. Number of workers: 375,000. It still takes a human touch to oversee the people who bring in revenue and generate new business.
Clergy. Number of workers: 45,000. A robotic minister? Don’t think so.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.