The Impact of Automation: How Many Jobs Will We Lose?


Consider this: technically, almost every job we know can be done by robots or algorithms. And the machines are even *better* than we are at most of them.

Would you have thought these jobs could be automated ten years ago?

Financial Analysts

30 percent of bank jobs are under threat of being replaced. Of course, most people don’t even go to their bank any longer and use apps instead. Even (or especially?) in countries like Kenya, branchless banking services like M-Pesa can thrive. Via the service a user can deposit and withdraw money, transfer money to other users or to their bank account as well as pay bills. Many “classic” banking jobs aren’t needed for any of this, and almost half of the Kenyan population uses it.

But even this seems just “normal” for us today. So consider the fact, that data analytics applications likeKensho can analyse financial risks and create sophisticated research reports in seconds that otherwise would take40 man-hours to prepare. The programme makes use of machine learning and analysing big data, and because of software like this highly paid financial analysts could soon be out of their jobs.

man and woman working in the office. collaborative teamwork.

Journalists and Editors

It’s true, algorithms are great at writing and the so-called robo-journalism is already a thing of the present. As the BBC states, you may have already read reports that were created by machines without even realising it. Already two years ago, in 2015 the Associated Press (AP), one of the United States`most important news agencies revealed that automated systems wrote and published about 12.000 stories on quarterly earnings reports every year.

The software they implemented was first taught the AP Style Guide of course. The software they used is called Wordsmith and was developed by the company Automated Insights. It is also being used by Yahoo!, Cisco, PwC and the Orlando Magic, an American professional basketball team. In the company’s words, “Wordsmith is a natural language generation platform that lets you produce human-sounding narratives from data.” Is this the future of journalism?

Draußen arbeiten am Laptop

Construction Workers

Robots are already able to replace most of our construction jobs. While they still lack the fine motor skills and creative capabilities needed to set up a worksite or lay bricks in more complicated spots, they are faster than humans when it comes to the more repetitive tasks. They can even adapt to differences between theoretical building specifications and the situation on-site which means correcting for weather conditions like wind and the terrain they are moving on. According to a report from the World Economic Forum hundreds of thousands of construction jobs could disappear until 2020 and construction is one of the top three threatened job sectors.

How many jobs will disappear?

While we can’t answer this question, we know one thing: the impact of automation is already huge. The examples above are almost negligible compared to the millions of jobs that could disappear in other sectors.

Well-known examples are:

  • everything that needs drivers, be it transport or taxi companies
  • repetitive administrative and office jobs
  • jobs in the service industry, with the prominent example of McDonald’s replacing cashiers with self-service solutions
  • call-centre workers that are being replaced by chatbots
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These are millions and millions of jobs that will disappear. The Economist predicts that globally almost half of all jobs could be automated by 2034. PwC are a bit more conservative, but still estimate 38 percent of US jobs are susceptible to automation. As we have seen, some jobs are already impacted in a big way, while others will be impacted once driverless cars hit the roads, for example.

Can we create enough new jobs to compensate for automation?

If we think back to our example of construction jobs being replaced, it isn’t hard to dream up new jobs that are needed in order to operate and maintain robots on site. Unless, of course we’ll just 3D-print our houses in the future.

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But is it likely this compensates for all the jobs that will have been replaced? It doesn’t seem like that, and in other job sectors it will be even more difficult. McDonald’s wants to operate 2.500 fully automated restaurants by the end of this year. In the US alone there are up to 3 million jobs that will be eliminated by self-driving vehicles.

These people will not become programmers, engineers and robot designers in the future. Even if their skill-set allowed for it, that many people probably won’t be needed in these types of work. And, as we saw earlier, even high-skilled labour is at risk.

One of the questions you posed to our speakers at Global Female Leaders 2017 was:

We all know that lots of jobs will idsappear due to robotics and digitisation. How can we compensate in other jobs? Is that realistic? “

It doesn’t seem likely. So it is high time we talked about the labour markets of the future. Maybe that’s a topic for Global Female Leaders 2018?

Review Global Female Leaders 2017: Official Whitepaper

The Global Female Leaders 2017 summit took place from 7th to 9th May 2017 at The Ritz-Carlton in Berlin. Our dear partner Accenture provided us with an in-depth White Paper, that you can now download for free!

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