42% of Jobs at Risk of Automation

A recent report from the Brookfield Institute says that 42% of the Canadian workforce is at high risk of being replaced by computers and technology in the next 20 years. Suncor Energy is already planning to replace its fleet with autonomous trucks by 2020, which will lead to the permanent loss of thousands of oil sands jobs. Earlier this year Google’s AlphaGo program beat Lee Se-dol, the world’s best Go player. What makes AlphaGo different from other AI programs is that it doesn’t play by any specific algorithm to win. Instead, it learns from its mistakes and plays better after each game, which is similar to how we humans learn. 🙂 In the past automation has been restricted to laborious, routine tasks such as assembly lines in manufacturing. But new breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, and faster hardware have pushed automation into cognitive occupations, such as driving and customer services.


The report puts a 70% or higher probability that high risk jobs will be affected by automation over the next 10 to 20 years. These “high risk” jobs include:

  • Retail salesperson
  • Administrative assistant
  • Food counter attendant
  • Cashier
  • Transport truck driver

However, there are also low risk jobs that have less than 30% chance of being affected by automation. These are usually higher paying jobs which requires critical thinking, people skills, and tend to be in the science, technology, engineering and math fields (STEM.) These positions include:

  • Trade managers
  • Registered nurses
  • Primary and secondary school teachers

Naturally the careers that require higher cognitive and judgement abilities are at low risk of being replaced by machine or software.

If you believe your job may be at high risk of automation then it’s best to learn some new technical skills or transition into a different position of lower risk. Being good with computers and technology will always help, and as time goes on the technical standards will increase. At one point in time being able to type 50 words a minute was considered a legitimate computer skill to include in your resume. But boasting about this common ability today would just be silly.

The institute mentioned that jobs deemed at high risk in the study are disproportionately held by younger people between 15 and 24 years, while workers in lower risk jobs tend to be “prime-aged workers,” between 25 and 54. This is good news since it’s easier for younger adults to learn new technology skills than middle aged workers.

In British Columbia, the government announced it will spend $2 million to train teachers and develop a coding curriculum for students between grades 6 to 9. The plan is for B.C. students to learn computer coding as a mandatory part of their classes starting in 2018. A couple million dollars is a small investment relative to the hundreds of thousands of students in the system, but at least it’s a start. 🙂

I don’t think everyone should become a 1337 programmer, but being able to utilize desktop publishing software and online tools in an everyday work environment would be a great asset for any business looking to hire in the future. But that being said, it’s also important to find a job that we enjoy doing. 🙂 Don’t be like this guy.

Random Useless Fact:

Barack Obama once said, “unless you are Native American, your family came from somewhere else”



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06/17/2016 5:17 am

Notice too that almost all the low-risk jobs are unionized positions.

Spells trouble for those just starting out in the workforce or those without skill/knowledge. Be interesting to see the correlation with unemployment.

Yet another reason to buy stocks of companies choising automation. They are cutting labour costs, but will not cut prices (isn’t tech supposed to lower prices??) which results in higher profits.

re: RUF — Obama should bone up on his history. Go back far enough, even the Native Americans are immigrants. North America has no indigenous race.

06/17/2016 5:50 pm

Cashiers and fast food workers are already seeing their jobs becoming automated. Rarely do I use a cashier at the grocery stores and bigger fast food chains have had some computers to place your order for the last several years. Now with the way tesla’s autopilot works I can see the trucking industry being disrupted in a major way soon.

06/18/2016 5:24 am
Reply to  Stephen

“Rarely do I use a cashier at the grocery stores…”

This is exactly what the grocer (et al) wants you to do. You are doing the work for free that the grocer is paying the cashier to do. I always use a cashier because I never work for free.

06/18/2016 5:54 am
Reply to  Anon

In the States, there’s a grocery chain called Food 4 Less (I’m sure others exist) which is completely a DIY experience. It’s very weird as there is minimal staff and almost all items (including fresh produce) in the store are plastic wrapped so a bar code label can be applied. Less staff, more landfill.

A better way (for many reasons) is to shop online and have your groceries delivered.

Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial
Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial
06/17/2016 8:17 pm

There are very few white collar jobs that I believe are immune to automation or, at the very least, being gutted of proper compensation. College courses are increasingly being taught by low paid adjuncts and highly distributed online courses are catching on for non-credentialed learning, so why do we think teachers would fare better? Similarly, as far as coding goes, programmers are faring well now due to shortage of skills, easy capital, and lots of crufty code on the enterprise level. As new grads continue to flow into the profession, the startup valuation bubble bursts, and we do better creating automated code generators, I think salaries in the industry will come down quite a bit.

06/18/2016 5:37 am

Agreed. The education system is an antiquated model, a remnant of a lo-tech world. Students had to gather at a centralized location so the teacher could transfer knowledge face-to-face. This is no longer required, especially post-secondary. From the printing press to the Internet, technology has made the transfer of knowledge ultimately transportable; it can be done anywhere by any one. The Encyclopedia Britannica and Khan’s Academy would be two perfect examples.

But the ancient model is so entrenched in society that it will probably never be removed or replaced. Sometimes humans aren’t as adaptable as we think we are.

06/20/2016 5:27 am

If you had a company concerned with lower costs/higher profit, you’d do the same thing, especially if you manufacture a non-physical item like software. Welcome to Capitalism.