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Does Not Compute: Five Million Jobs Lost to Robots?


Well, the "Robot Revolution" our grandparents feared has finally arrived. But they're calling it the "Fourth Industrial Revolution." According to recent research from the World Economic Forum (WEF), over five million jobs will be lost by 2020 due to developments in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence (AI), genetics, robotics, manufacturing, and other technological developments.


The WEF report, titled "The Future of Jobs Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution," predicts that about 7 million jobs will be lost and 2 million gained as a result of technological change. The findings are based on a survey of 371 global companies with more than 13 million employees in 15 major developed and emerging economies.


"While some jobs are threatened by redundancy and others grow rapidly, existing jobs are also going through a change in the skill sets required to do them," wrote WEF founder Klaus Schwab and managing board member Richard Samans in the report.


Before you start packing up your desk or develop a phobia of robots, don't assume machines will replace the majority of human work. The largest impact is expected to be upon administrative jobs, which will face what the report calls "a perfect storm of technological trends." Mobile internet and cloud technology will make some jobs redundant, while big data analytics may also reduce the need for workers in these roles, the research found. If your current role (or the one you're seeking) falls under the administrative category (data gathering, spreadsheets, reports, analytics, office management...), add "continuing education" to your to-do list. Any experience you can gain in technological fields that fall under STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) will be valuable. Focus on the technological aspects of your current job, improve on them as you are able, and look into what skills you have that can translate into high-tech fields.


And remember, it's not just job seekers who are worried. Employers will experience talent shortages in STEM fields unless they can work to offer education and retraining for employees. The report explains: "It is critical that businesses take an active role in supporting their current workforces through re-training, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning and that governments create the enabling environment, rapidly and creatively, to assist these efforts."


*  Update: And if you're nervous about technology taking the place of humans, Uber just started self-driving car pickups in Pittsburgh (via TechCrunch).  The company says it has no plans to roll out this change on a national level anytime soon, but wonder what this means for the gig economy with Uber and Lyft, or the trucking industry. Wal-Mart has self-driving trucks already in the testing stage. But we're thinking from a personal perspective: Would you hop into a driverless car?  #skynet


Your action items: Sign up for a class, check out Codecademy.com (or seven more places to learn to code for free), review the options for continuing education in information technology at your local community college, and take a look at GirlsWhoCode.com for your daughters.

*Post updated: September 14, 2016

Last Updated: January 19, 2016
About the author

Kelly Love Johnson

Kelly Love Johnson is Content Strategist for Jobs2Careers. She's also a shower singer, TV watcher, pop culture junkie, and habitual smirker. She's passionate about helping people find their dream jobs and closing the wage gap. Her book, Skirt! Rules for the Workplace: An Irreverent Guide to Advancing Your Career, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2008.