A publication of the Indiana Business Research Center at IU's Kelley School of Business
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Future of work 101

Carol O. Rogers
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The work most of us do today is influenced by both automation and globalization.

Just google it—future of work—and 495 million results pop up. Walmart has even paid for an ad so it appears first in the results (so we can find out what Walmart is doing vis-à-vis “the future”). After reading and often just skimming a few hundred of these results, one conclusion seemed inevitable—the future is already here.

The work most of us do today is influenced by the automation and globalization of the past few years—or even the past few months. The work of people in Indiana has been influenced by technological change for more than two centuries. Think about it—canals allowed for faster transport of goods from the Midwest to eastern states (and vice versa). Then railroads killed canal transport and helped move people and work throughout the entire country and to the middle and northern parts of Indiana. The industrial age moved people from farms to cities. And the car—well, its impact has been huge.

Our demographics have also imposed changes on the work we do. When the vast majority of women moved into the workforce, there was a concomitant increase in the number of restaurants, fast food chains and supermarkets. Strip malls popped up along every major traffic way, to aid in the convenience of stopping to buy things before and after work or during lunch breaks. Our commercial “infrastructure” reflects how we commute to and from work, not just where we live.

And with those changes, jobs have shifted in Indiana from making things (goods-producing) to providing services (see Figure 1). Many of us go through our workdays never interacting with anyone who works on the front lines in construction or manufacturing. Instead, we interact most often with people we serve or who are serving us—with dinner, a legal paper (you’ve been served!), or with an idea seeking investment in what might be the next technological disruption. The “knowledge” economy is everywhere, and it wants more and more knowledge workers with advanced and varied skills and the ability to be flexible.

Figure 1: Percent of Indiana non-farm jobs

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Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Current Employment Statistics)

Just look at the retail sector (see Figure 2). Back in 1990, at the very dawn of “the web,” there was no industry category for electronic shopping. There wasn’t one specifically for building materials and gardening equipment. By 2016, there weren’t just categories for those, but they employed nearly 50,000 people (about the number of jobs that Amazon says they will hire to staff the new HQ2, wherever it is located).

Figure 2: Indiana’s retail trade employment: Today vs. 26 years ago

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Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Current Employment Statistics)

Just as industries change, so do the occupations within them. A couple of years ago, a pair of researchers, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, published their investigation on how susceptible jobs are to computerization.1 It is heavily referenced and its scores of occupations in terms of most-to-least potential for automation are being used by a broad swath of folks in order to look at the possible impacts across our states and throughout the country. Table 1 and Table 2 provide a top 20 view of the most and least likely to be automated.

Table 1: Occupations with least potential for automation of tasks

Rank SOC Occupation
1 29-1125 Recreational Therapists
2 49-1011 First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics, Installers, and Repairers
3 11-9161 Emergency Management Directors
4 21-1023 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
5 29-1181 Audiologists
6 29-1122 Occupational Therapists
7 29-2091 Orthotists and Prosthetists
8 21-1022 Health Care Social Workers
9 29-1022 Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
10 33-1021 First-Line Supervisors of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers
11 29-1031 Dietitians and Nutritionists
12 11-9081 Lodging Managers
13 27-2032 Choreographers
14 41-9031 Sales Engineers
15 29-1060 Physicians and Surgeons
16 25-9031 Instructional Coordinators
17 19-3039 Psychologists, All Other
18 33-1012 First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives
19 29-1021 Dentists, General
20 25-2021 Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education

Source: Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?

Table 2: Occupations with most potential for automation of tasks

Rank SOC Occupation
683 43-3071 Tellers
684 27-2023 Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials
685 13-1032 Insurance Appraisers, Auto Damage
686 13-2072 Loan Officers
687 43-4151 Order Clerks
688 43-4011 Brokerage Clerks
689 43-9041 Insurance Claims and Policy Processing Clerks
690 51-2093 Timing Device Assemblers and Adjusters
691 43-9021 Data Entry Keyers
692 25-4031 Library Technicians
693 43-4141 New Accounts Clerks
694 51-9151 Photographic Process Workers and Processing Machine Operators
695 13-2082 Tax Preparers
696 43-5011 Cargo and Freight Agents
697 49-9064 Watch Repairers
698 13-2053 Insurance Underwriters
699 15-2091 Mathematical Technicians
700 51-6051 Sewers, Hand
701 23-2093 Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers
702 41-9041 Telemarketers

Source: Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?

automationTool

Far more fun, though, is this great tool built by the Planet Money people at NPR—simply called “Will Your Job Be Done by a Machine?” You can select a category and a job and let their robot tell you what the chances are.

The McKinsey Global Institute has a useful report, “A Future that Works,” that hones in on the proportion of our jobs that are “technically” automatable (see Figure 3).2 Many of us who came of professional age when there were more secretaries and administrative assistants know that Microsoft Office, doodle.com and other tools have more or less taken the place of a person.

Figure 3: Automation potential

automation graphic

Source: McKinsey Global Institute, “A Future that Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity,”

But take note: These and scores of articles on this topic approach automation as taking away jobs. The more likely reality is that automation will replace the routine, repeated tasks of many jobs and that more skilled tasks will be assigned. In addition, the concept of a “job” may be shifting from having an employer to being an entrepreneur or a contractor. The Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered microcredit (small loans at affordable interest), wants graduates to become job creators rather than job seekers.

We plan to publish more articles on this topic in upcoming issues, so stay tuned!

Notes

  1. Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?” September 2013, www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf.
  2. McKinsey Global Institute, “A Future that Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity,” January 2017, www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/digital-disruption/harnessing-automation-for-a-future-that-works.

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