The nature of employment continues to change. Just as blacksmiths have been replaced by machine operators and archers by riflemen, today's workers will be replaced by their higher-tech successors.
In a recent talk at The American Enterprise Institute, Bill Gates predicted that software automation was going to take the place of a great number of workers. Accountants will be replaced by programs like Quicken on steroids. Retail workers, waitresses, and telemarketers will likewise be replaced by sophisticated machines. Bill has good reason to believe this. After all, if you call customer service, you're as likely to get an automated voice-recognition service as you are a person. Then again, Bill's the head of a software company. He would think that way.
Tell someone they could have a self driving car in the next 20 years and you're going to get mixed reactions. Some will say it's fantastic and others will recoil in disgust. Telemarketers are already universally reviled, and it's highly unlikely that expensive software will be more popular. People go out to restaurants to be served by other people, not by robots. No date will be impressed if a robot compliments your wine selection.
Nevertheless, many of today's jobs will be going the way of the dodo, but the ones on this list will be doing just the opposite. Check them out. If you have a job a robot could do, you might need to head back to school.
5 5: Nursing and Eldercare
The populations of developed countries are aging rapidly. People are living longer and having fewer children, and, consequently, some of the least futuristic jobs are expected to grow at a very fast rate. Nurses can expect 26 percent employment growth between now and 2020. Home health aides are looking at a whopping 69.4 percent, and personal care aides have a similar expectation at 70.5 percent.
Simply put, older people need more health care. The longer we live, the more health problems we have, and the more health problems that we are able to treat, the more work nurses will have to do. Nursing is one of the simplest – not easiest, but simplest – professions to get into, and it looks as if there will always be more and more work in this steady and well-paying field.
4 4: Remote Control Operators
The entire purpose of tools is to make work easier and safer. Robots are the most sophisticated mechanical tools we have, taking people in dangerous professions out of harms way and performing tasks people just can't do. As robotics get more and more common and complex, they are replacing humans in many industries and preparing to replace us in many more.
Consider the automotive plant worker of not too many years ago. Once robotic arms were able to do the assembly line work, many people lost their jobs. But the sort of work that robots are preparing to do now requires a remote operator either because the job is not just doing the same thing over and over, or because it needs a human mind to make a moral decision.
Robots can do rescue work, scouting irradiated areas such as the Fukushima fallout zones. They can go into narrow tunnels, such as collapsing mine shafts. They can fly into combat as in the case of drones. One profession, commercial deep diver, is already seeing some replacement by undersea robot operators. Deep divers get paid good money because it's a tough job and because the gasses they breathe under pressure can turn their bones into fragile honeycomb. Robots don't have that problem. They can stay underwater indefinitely, welding and wrenching and scouting while their operator sits above in an oil rig – or even in a trailer on shore – drinking mountain dew and ordering pay per view.
Of course, if we're going to have robots doing all this work, we're going to need...
3 3: Robotics Engineers
… people to design, build and maintain them.
One of the things that robots cannot do, thank god, is build robots. People build robots to perform specific functions and solve new problems. Robots are specialized: for each new problem, there is a new robot. And each new robot is different from the last.
One thing about robots is that they are very complex. The more complex the problem it solves, the more complex the robot is. The more complex it is, the harder it is to keep it running. The harder it is to keep it running, the more necessary a mechanic is – and robots are solving more and more complex problems every day.
Soon robots will be essential to a great number of businesses and keeping them running will be as important as making sure the computer system doesn't go down. The robot engineer will be the IT guy of the not too distant future. Right now, if a SWAT team's robot goes down, they can call the company that sold it to them, but soon there will be too many robots in the field performing far too important functions to be sent back to the shop whenever their Spacely Space Sprocket blows a ratchet. Expect 'robo repair' to be an actual occupation.
The job that the Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps robotics engineers into is electro-mechanical engineers and technicians. It's expected to have slower than average job growth until 2022, but my prediction is that there will be very little turnover. Repairing and creating necessary machines is just too valuable.
All that's required to get into this field is a technical degree, though a bachelor's is desirable. Entry level salaries are around $50,000 a year, USD.
2 2: Computer Programmers
This is the 'no duh' entry in this list, but it has to be included: Computer programmers have average expected job growth in comparison to other occupations, but the fact is you'll virtually never see an out of work programmer. They make an average of $74,000 a year, and the more specialized they are, the more they make, and the less likely they are to get fired. For all those of you who already spend the majority of your time sitting in front of a glowing rectangle and solving problems, becoming a programmer may just be for you. For those of you who enjoy human interaction and have a low threshold for frustration, you may wish to consider a different occupation.
What the future holds for programmers is both bright and grim. More and more programmers are retiring as early as they can, frustrated with having to learn their jobs over every three years. But the reason they have to do that is because of how fast programming evolves. There's always a new development, a new system. And some very, very cool systems are coming into the public view right now.
Increasingly, virtual or artificial intelligence will be required for robots that are going to work without human control. And augmented reality, formerly the stuff of cyberpunk novels, is becoming reality with applications that can do things like translate foreign writing or give you information on people just by taking their picture. Computer programmers have a very promising future making the world a much more interesting place. And, hey, if they don't want to be cutting edge they can always just make a new Pacman clone.
1 1: Post Secondary Educators
Advanced educators such as SAT prep, professors, technical teachers and the like can expect a 17.4 percent increase in employment in their industry. It makes sense. The world gets more complex, so the jobs in it get more complex and require more education. Get meta on the whole deal and become the person who trains all the people!
Education is, for better or worse, a business. And business is good. It was recently reported by Bloomerg that college grads are displacing the uneducated in the lower paying jobs market. There's a glut of over-educated people. What does this mean? That your parents were right, and you have to go to college to be competitive or even employable. This trend shows no sign of slowing.
So, not only will professors be required to teach the specialized fields that really need a great deal of education, they'll also be necessary just to educate our fry cooks and hot tar roofers.