A mountain goat perched on a rock representing a person finding a steady footing and looking to the future.
Image: Standa Riha/Shutterstock

Is there such a thing as a steady, future-proof job?

4 Sep 2018

The robots are taking our jobs, or so we’re told, but what careers of the future look set to have a long shelf life?

A quick search on Google about the workplace of the future tends to double down on Terminator­­-like prospects, or at least one where millions of jobs are made obsolete rather than the overthrow of humanity.

Noticeably in the firing line are a number of typically low-skilled roles such as taxi drivers or farmers, but increasingly this has changed to include many medium-skilled roles such as financial analysts and those working in law.

But, even if your career appears currently safe – such as a journalist, for example – can you rest on your laurels and presume there will always be some jobs that robots simply can’t replace?

As is often the case, it is not really as straightforward as one career lasting forever.

In a recent study compiled by PwC, analysts found that unlike some of the dire pessimism about the future workplace that is out there, artificial intelligence (AI) will create as many jobs as it displaces over the next 20 years.

This won’t be across the board however, as some sectors will benefit a lot more than others. PwC predicts that health, for example, will see a 22pc increase in employment, compared with a 25pc reduction in manufacturing.

If we are to create a handy list of the most likely jobs to remain for at least the foreseeable future, global job site Indeed and its EMEA economist, Mariano Mamertino, has already pointed to just a few.

The best-paid jobs

What becomes a noticeable trend among the roles is that they are all being drastically changed by AI and robotics, but only to the point that it makes the employee’s role an awful lost easier.

By far the role with the highest average pay is a data scientist at an average salary of more than €61,000 per year.

Meanwhile, the increasing power of AI in cybersecurity will likely see experts in this field secure a job for the foreseeable future at around €33,000 per year.

Another career at the lower end of the pay scale that could be sticking around for a while is that of a chef. Despite attempts to automate much of the basic cooking processes in the kitchen, the growth of food trends and the creativity that comes with being a chef will likely lead to a secure career at a little more than €20,000 a year.

Creativity is a lifeline

Creativity could be the lifeline for many careers of the future, according to James Milligan, director of UK, Ireland and EMEA at Hays.

“Being an actor or musician, that’s something that current AI and machine learning can’t do,” he said to Siliconrepublic.com.

“Certainly, those careers will be somewhat future-proofed. But I don’t think we’ll get to a point where those things are done by a machine – humans are much more complex than that.”

One of the common talking points brought up when discussing how we prepare for future automation is that we will be able to retrain much of the workforce to deal in technologies such as software engineering and other AI systems.

But is it as simple as that? And, more importantly, who exactly will be the people or organisations responsible for retraining millions of people in new roles?

Bearded man wearing an augmented reality headset looking at a 3D model of a house.

Those in construction will start to use technologies such as augmented reality more and more. Image: Supamotion/Shutterstock

Disruptive, but over a long period of time

It certainly won’t be straightforward, Milligan said, giving the example that someone working in construction will likely be easier trained on the latest virtual reality or augmented reality construction software, than a taxi driver trying to move into software engineering.

Some of it will fall on governments to retrain those with lower skills, he suggested, or we could even see the development of concepts such as universal basic income, which has so far hit a few roadblocks on the way.

“It’s not going to feel disruptive, it’s just going to be small things that happen over time,” Milligan said. “If you look at a job from 10 years ago, it might have the same title, but you do things a lot differently.”

However, as a McKinsey report points out, previous instances of industrial change occurred at a pace substantially slower than today’s technological age.

A survey conducted by the firm among 300 high-level executives found that 66pc consider investing and upskilling employees as an ‘urgent priority’. Also, 62pc of respondents believe they will need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce in the next five years.

If this wasn’t worrying enough, only 16pc of those executives in the private sector feel their companies are ‘very prepared’ to address any skills gaps.

What you will need to stay on top

What becomes quite certain just by looking into a crystal ball for career prospects is that, unfortunately, it is very hard to predict such a thing as a future-proof job. The rapid pace of technological change could make anyone suddenly start to look over their shoulder in the space of a five-year period.

However, for those who this question really applies to – such as those who have just received their Leaving Cert results – the most necessary skill might not be one found in a degree. Rather, it could be being capable enough to be adaptable to a rapidly changing workplace.

“Most of the necessary are soft skills such as critical thinking, project management, negotiation and emotional intelligence,” Milligan said.

“They’re what employers are looking for in terms of employees of the future, because they’re the type of people that can deal with the complex problems that are going to come up.”

Colm Gorey
By Colm Gorey

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic. He joined in January 2014 and covered AI, IoT, science and anything that will get us to Mars quicker. When not trying to get his hands on the latest gaming release, he can be found lost in a sea of Wikipedia articles on obscure historic battles and countries that don't exist any more, or watching classic Simpsons episodes far too many times to count.

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