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Who are the winners and losers?

What job roles and their associated skills are likely to face increased or decreased demand in the digital economy?

It is very difficult to make accurate predictions about the extent of change, but all commentators, analysts and researchers agree there will be a major impact on work stemming from the so-called “4th Industrial Revolution”.

While a proportion of jobs may disappear, and yet more jobs be altered, so too will many new jobs be created. The lorry driver of today could evolve into the drone pilot of tomorrow. In other words, economies and societies will adjust to changing circumstances and it will be up to us as individuals to adjust along with it.

In this interview by Wharton University, Ravi Kumar, the President of Infosys, emphasises the role of lifelong learning in career success. Business that has historically been “off-shored” to “developing” economies for cost-saving purposes, is now being “re-shored” as increased automation of basic tasks makes the cost of human labour less significant. He also notes the blurring of boundaries between industries, for example bankers are keen to model their thinking on the latest developments in retail. The discussion is well worth watching (20 minutes) and is also available as a podcast and written transcript.

A (lengthy!) report titled “The Future of Employment” from the University of Oxford (Frey and Osborne, 2013) provides a detailed review of the history of technological change and its impact on employment (p5 – 28). Interestingly, the examples go back more than 500 years to the first Queen Elizabeth. When presented with the first knitting machine, she disapproved of it on the basis it would damage the livelihoods of the many women who did the job by hand.

The research carried out by the authors examined the potential for job roles to be automated in great detail. Their work resulted in a list of 702 jobs (page 57-72) ordered by the potential for computerisation!

You will be pleased to know that a more accessible summary of these findings was presented in Schwab (2017 p. 39) [1]

Jobs MOST prone to automation

  • Telemarketers
  • Tax Preparers
  • Insurance Appraisers, Auto Damage
  • Umpires, Referees and other sports officials
  • Legal Secretaries
  • Hosts and Hostesses, Restaurant, Lounge and Coffee Shops
  • Real Estate Brokers (Estate Agents)
  • Farm Labour Contractors
  • Secretaries and Administrative Assistants (except Legal, Medical and Executive)
  • Couriers and Messengers

Jobs LEAST prone to automation

  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
  • Choreographers
  • Physicians and Surgeons
  • Psychologists
  • Human Resources Managers
  • Computer Systems Analysts
  • Anthropologists and Archaeologists
  • Marine Engineers and Naval Architects
  • Sales Managers
  • Chief Executives

Is there anything about this list that surprises you? What skills would you associate with the jobs identified as least prone to automation?


  1. Schwab K. The Fourth Industrial Revolution. London: Portfolio Penguin; 2017.
© University of Exeter
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