How Low-Skill Workers Can Survive Automation

Lower-skilled workers face the long-term threat of being automated out of their jobs. But with the right strategies, workforce agencies can make it easier for these workers to leverage the skills they have and transition to new jobs.

Consider Office and Administrative Workers, who in the short term seem to have lots of opportunities. Thanks to the economic recovery, there are now 5% more jobs than available workers in this field, according to Burning Glass Technologies’ recent report Different Skills, Different Gaps: Measuring and Closing the Skills Gap.

But office tasks also have a fairly high risk of being automated in the next decade, according to a World Economic Forum report using Burning Glass data. Other fields, like Retail Sales and Assembly Line work, face similar trends. Reskilling is essential for displaced workers, but reskilling to what role? In these cases, workforce agencies can target training for “adjacent jobs,” roles that demand similar skills to the workers’ former job. That means training can build upon existing skills, and workers can move to new roles in relatively easy steps.

For example, the WEF report found that Secretaries and Administrative Assistants could potentially transition to at least 54 occupations like Insurance Claims Clerks; Library Assistants; Concierges; and Production, Planning, and Expediting Clerks.

Figure 1 – Secretaries and Administrative Assistants

Some of these adjacent occupations would actually pay more than office work. Even occupations that represent a short-term pay cut, however, may not be a long-term loss. “While some job transition options may initially be associated with pay cuts, those initial job transition decisions might pave the way to rewarding careers later on,” the WEF report found. “Facing a variable horizon of opportunities, aiming for long-term gains after short-term displacement becomes one additional route for workers with few desirable short term job transition options.”

Below are two more examples of low skill occupations (Cashiers and Assembly Line Workers) that are at risk of automation. However, as you can see, there are many transition pathways available to workers in these occupations. On average, Cashiers have at least 38 job opportunities available to them, and Assembly Line Workers have at least 82 job opportunities available to them.

Figure 2 – Cashiers


Figure 3 – Assembly Line Workers

Not all low-skill occupations have as many transition options as Cashiers and Assembly Line Workers. For instance, Construction & Extraction occupations, who have the lowest demand for jobs, only have a few adjacent job opportunities, as shown in Figure 4. According to the WEF report, Construction & Building Inspectors only have 6 available opportunities that they can transition into with equal or greater pay. However, there are still options for these workers. With the proper retraining and/or educating, these workers can add new skills to their resume to increase their job transition pathways.

Figure 4 – Construction & Building Inspectors

The thought of job automation can be intimidating. But there are a variety of options available to displaced workers. To learn more about the U. S. skills gap and find out which skills are needed the most in specific occupations, read the full Burning Glass report here. And for further information on reskilling and job transition pathways, read the full WEF report here.

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