Are any jobs safe from automation?

The robots are coming, and people are worried that advanced technologies will soon replace the work done by humans. Are any jobs safe from automation? Yes, but they come with certain skills that people will need for the future of work.

15 Jul 2020

Businesses offering retraining opportunities. Governments ensuring that the right regulations and safety nets are in place. A remodeling of the educational system. There are plenty of things that need to happen as technology further advances and people fear becoming obsolete at work. But there are things that individuals can do, in order to prepare themselves for a job that’s unlikely to be automated in the future.

We’ve spoken to Nobel economists to learn more about the skills you’ll need to survive this new era of automation.

1. Find and use the right information

Bengt Holmström remembers a conversation he had with a young entrepreneur from his home country Finland. The two were discussing recent developments in the tech sector, and Holmström wanted to know what had made him so successful. “Maybe it was a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but he said he’s very good at googling,” says Holmström. “It takes skill to actually know how to get your hands on the kind of information that’s valuable, who to listen to, what to follow and how to make use of that mass amount of wonderful information that’s out there. Learning to make use of that would be the skill I’d advocate.”

2. Maintain flexibility

Lifelong learning is absolutely essential according to most of the economists we’ve talked to. The days when people got a job and stayed at that job until they retired are over. That’s why versatility and flexibility are important, says Michael Spence. “Be open about your education. Be prepared to learn new skills,” suggests the economist. “Don’t just focus on one thing because that’s what robots do. Robots can do that better than you. Diversity, the robots can’t do.”

3. Good and effective communication

More than ever, developing communication skills is important for professional success. The ability to share creative ideas with colleagues and superiors, to solve problems together, to build relationships – these skills will help your success no matter which industry you work in. “For the growing majority, work will involve human interaction, and especially interaction in situations where the response of the other person isn’t predictable,” says Nobel Laureate Christopher Pissarides. “If it was predictable, you would have a machine doing it.”

4. Calling all creatives and math geeks

Soft skills are an important foundation to build upon. Being able to solve complex problems or think critically remains invaluable, but a case can be made that good technical skills don’t hurt either. “Given how advanced the new technologies are, we do need people that are very skilled in engineering, mathematics, physics,” says Pissarides. “If you are talented and interested in that direction, go and learn as much as you can. There will be a lot of potential for success there.”

Pissarides points out that there will be a significant expansion in the healthcare sector, too, although governments and institutions in most countries need to take action to ensure the field is better paid in order to attract more talent.

There is also hope for all those gifted with entertaining qualities. “The leisure and entertainment industry will grow in importance,” says Pissarides. Creativity needs a kind of intuitiveness that can’t be imitated by robots.

5. A sense of adventure and enthusiasm

“I’m very optimistic about the future,” says Robert Merton. “I can’t tell you what path that future is going to take, but I don’t really need to.” The Nobel Laureate says that with the right kind of training and the right attitude, change will be perceived as an opportunity rather than a threat. “When opportunity knocks, you’re going to say, ‘Come on change, come on robots. I’m ready. I’m going to flourish in an environment of change rather than be fearful.’”

Has this question inspired you? 

Join the Nobel Perspectives community to get the latest on upcoming events and Nobel Laureate content as soon as it launches.

Related articles

Learn more about these Laureates

What's the key to happy, productive employees?

Bengt Holmström

Nobel Laureate, 2016

How can we reestablish trust in the financial sector?

Robert Merton

Nobel Laureate, 1997

Why is there unemployment when jobs are available?

Christopher Pissarides

Nobel Laureate, 2018

How can developing countries stimulate their growth?

Michael Spence

Nobel Laureate, 2001