Automation has become an increasingly disruptive force in the labour market.
Self-driving cars threaten the job security of millions of American truck drivers. At banks, automated tellers are increasingly common. And at wealth management firms, robo -advisers are replacing humans.
“Any job that is routine or monotonous runs the risk of being automated away,” Yisong Yue, an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology, told Business Insider.
While it may seem like low-skill jobs face the most risk of being replaced by automation, complicated jobs that are fairly routine face some of the biggest risks, Yue, who teaches in the computing and mathematical sciences department at Caltech, explained.
In the legal profession, for example, groups of lawyers and paralegals sift through vast amounts of documents searching for keywords. Technology now exists that can quickly do that work. In the future it’s likely that a handful of lawyers to do the job of 20 due to automation.
That’s not heartening news for college students about to join the workforce. But experts say there are ways for them to adapt their academic pursuits to compete with an increasingly automated workforce, by learning to be critical thinkers who improvise in ways that robots cannot.
“I think that the types of jobs that are secure are the types of jobs that require free form pattern matching and creativity; things that require improvisation,” Yue said.
As well as thinking critically, Yue believes that students who are comfortable around computers and those who understand at least some programming will have advantages in an automated workforce.
CEO of HiringSolved Shon Burton, a company that leverages AI & machine learning technology to make job recruiting more efficient, agrees.
“Absolutely I think there’s value in some level of understanding computer science,” Burton told Business Insider. He explained that people who understand technology, in turn know limitations and abilities of an automated process and can use that knowledge to help them work smarter.
Still, that doesn’t mean that STEM majors alone hold the key to finding success in the future workforce. In fact, it may be those with “soft skills,” like adaptability and communication, that actually have an advantage.
“Students should be thinking, ‘in 20 years, where does the human add value?,’” Burton said. There will always be areas where humans will want to interact with other humans, he continued.
For example, perhaps artificial intelligence will be better able to diagnose a disease, but humans will still likely want to talk to a doctor to learn about their diagnosis and discuss options.
The best thing a college student can do to ensure they will succeed in an automated workplace is to chose an industry they love, and ensure they focus on learning creativity and communication skills, according to Burton.
“The important thing if you’re coming out of school is to think about where your edge is, you think about doing something you really want to do,” he explained.
Then he asked, “where does the automation stop?”