You, yes you, could be replaced by a robot someday. Or a computer program. Here today, gone tomorrow...or the day after that. The job market is in a constant state of flux, with new fields and careers emerging - often in conjunction with new technology - as others slowly wither and die on the vine. It wasn’t that long ago that the position of social media manager simply didn’t exist, and now many companies employ one full-time. Or how about a switchboard operator? Once upon time, they were crucial to making a telephone call. Sadly, they have all (or nearly all) gone the way of the dodo.
I am not a fortune teller. I can’t predict with any certainty what will happen a decade from now, or even tomorrow. But I can make an educated guess. So, what will the job market look like in 2040? Well, we can safely say that many jobs popular now will be gone, and many jobs that don’t yet exist will top the list for growth and demand. Beyond that, we’re simply guessing. 25 years is a long time! Remember when Marty McFly travelled 30 years into the future in Back to the Future Part II? Remember how different that world looked to our 1985 eyes? Flying cars, self-fitting and drying clothes, portable fusion reactors, and yes, even tablet computers. While it may have missed the mark on some things, it did hit the bullseye on others. Fortune-telling is an imprecise “science”.
And on a related note, Marty travelled to October 21, 2015 in that movie. Yup, next month marks his arrival. Watch for him.
2040 will undoubtedly bring with it plenty of change and fantastic new technology. What jobs go along with them is subject to debate. Some jobs will be replaced by technology, others will simply no longer be needed.
But by using current data (most notably from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), we can identify some trends and downward trajectories today. And these jobs appear to be on their way out.
1. Bank Loan Officers
Ever applied for a loan - car, house, or otherwise - at your local bank? You likely met with their loan officer, an individual tasked with approving or denying the applications that come across his or her desk. They crunch the numbers, assess the risk, and ultimately determine the “creditworthiness” of the applicant. Unfortunately, many banks are already experimenting with complex algorithms and software programs that do everything in the blink of an eye, instantly evaluating each application against a set of criteria inputted by the bank. It’s fast, yes, but completely devoid of the human element that was often the difference for applicants that were right on the cusp. Whereas a human being might be willing to take a slight risk with them, a computer program will simply deny them if they fall under the cutoff point. Case closed.
And while we’re at the bank, expect to see fewer (or none at all) bank tellers in the future, too. Look at the line the next time you’re at the bank. If there is a line, it’s most likely made up of older individuals. They tend to be the only people still favouring a teller over the ATM, and when they’re gone, so too will the demand for tellers (does that sound morbid? I didn’t mean for it to sound morbid).
2. Air Traffic Controllers
We may not realize it, but there is a heck of a lot of traffic up in the skies at any given moment. Depending on the time and day, the number can easily be anywhere from 300,000 to 1,000,000 people in thousands of different airplanes. That’s some serious congestion. It’s up to the air traffic controllers in the tower of an airport to keep the system running smoothly and safely, directing pilots to various runways and altitudes. It’s a high-paced and high-stress job, with hundreds of thousands of lives hanging in the balance. One small mistake can be catastrophic. And there’s the catch: humans make mistakes. Companies are already exploring the use of computer systems to replace air traffic controllers, and have been for years. Remove the humans, and remove the potential for human error (or so they say...many are not convinced that the system can function in a completely autonomous manner). BAE Systems in Britain has had a program in development since at least 2003, and they claim it can land a plane safely without the use of air traffic controllers. No matter where you stand on the issue, the year 2040 will probably see fewer of them, and they may be obsolete if the technology to bring planes down without them continues to improve over the next 25 years.
The same goes for pilots themselves. Aircrafts are largely flown on automatic pilot already, with the humans taking control only during takeoff and landing. Many see a future without the need for them at all. As for me, I’m not sure I want my life in the hands of Windows 2035.
This one makes me sad. The kind, grey-haired lady librarian is disappearing, my friends. Previously, in the days before the Dawn of Google, if you needed information on the mako shark for your fifth grade report, you hit the school or local library and asked the librarian where to look. She smiled, asked a few questions about what you specifically required, and guided you through the stacks, pulling out the perfect book with a “There you are, dear” (does it sound like I went to school in the 1950s?). She might suggest a few online databases in the early days of the internet. But no more. Now, kids simply google “mako shark” and have tens or hundreds of thousands of sites to choose from. And they rarely use books at all anymore. Libraries are becoming more about a place to use a desktop computer and free wifi, and less about books and getting assistance from an actual librarian trained in library sciences and/or research.
And the same goes for bookstores, too. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re slowly disappearing. First, the small, independent ones closed up shop. Now, we’re seeing the super chains like Chapters and Barnes & Noble reduce their number of locations. People simply don’t buy as many paper books as they used to, and book sellers and book publishers are feeling the pinch. It’s more and more about ebooks and e-readers like the Kindle. Will that trend continue, or will we experience a nostalgic return to physical books? As someone who loves the smell and feel of a book in my hands, I hope they’re wrong about this one. A 2040 without librarians or bookstores is one I don’t want to see.
4. Mail Carriers
Ah, the mailman (or mailwoman, as the case may be). So iconic. So suburban and reflective or a simpler time. Used to be, your mail was hand-delivered to your door with a smile and a hello, rain or shine. But that’s changing. While we still see and use mail carriers, the job market is in freefall. CareerCast predicts a 28% decline in the next decade, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t continue beyond that. People just don’t send letters by “snail mail” anymore. We email. We pay our bills online. The only people still relying on them is the older generation, just like at the bank. But they won’t be around forever. Both Canada Post and the US Postal Service operate, year after year, at a loss. Both have already begun to phase out door delivery in some areas, with plans for further cuts down the road. You would think that the increase in online shopping would balance it all out (Americans spent $200 billion on online shopping in 2011, with predictions it could hit $327 billion by next year), but many online retailers use private courier services like UPS or FedEx. The writing is on the wall for mail carriers...and the message is unfortunately sent as an email, and not a traditional letter.
The same goes for newspaper boys and girls. Formerly a North American rite of passage, newspaper delivery used to be the very first job for many children. But people typically get their news online these days, with newspaper circulation numbers falling. The need for anyone - let alone a number of them - to deliver is at an all-time low, and continues to drop. Many famous newspapers have been forced to either close entirely, or discontinue their physical print version in favour of a digital-only plan.
5. Meter Readers
Remember meter readers? Once a month, they showed up outside your home and checked the electricity and/or gas meter, making note - often with pen and paper - of how much you used since their last visit. Well, no more. CareerCast sees a decline of 19% through to 2022, and the job will very likely disappear completely soon after that. Companies simply don’t need them anymore. Modern meters are digital and wired to send information back to the parent company, 24/7. The need to physically be there and read the meter doesn’t exist.
6. Travel Agents
Your friendly neighbourhood travel agent used to take care of everything for you, checking for the best rates and connections to virtually anywhere in the world. Now? You head online, or open your preferred travel app. Kayak, Booking.com, Google Flights, the airline website itself, and on and on and on. You can instantly compare prices, departure times, seating configuration, meal choice, and whatever else comes to mind. You can find local tour agents in any city and book all-inclusive day tours and expeditions yourself. CareerCast sees a 12% dip in demand for travel agents over the next seven years. That’s not a rosy forecast.
There’s something about lumberjacks. Maybe it’s the flannel. Maybe it’s the kickass beards. Or maybe it’s the toques (bonus points if you know what that is). But they’re disappearing. That may not be a huge deal to most, but lumberjacks were at one time a cornerstone of the economy is many places, and the image of the plaid flannel shirt and axe are as synonymous with Canada, for example, as the iconic Mounties. Lumberjacks are cool! But recent advances in technology and equipment - not to mention a decreased reliance on paper products (and therefore wood pulp) - has made them relics of a fabled past. CareerCast predicts a 9% decline in an already decimated population.
We could go on. Cashiers are disappearing (self check-out options, online retail). Bus and taxi drivers may suffer the same fate (just how long until the self-driving cars we’ve been promised start to materialize?). And many predict that social media is a flash-in-the-pan fad that will soon slink back into obscurity, taking with it social media and brand managers. What’s vital today could be obsolete tomorrow. Will doctors ever be replaced by something else, like surgical robots or the “Diagnosis 3000”? Will teachers ever fade from existence as we develop ways to directly input knowledge into our brains? Will chefs, and servers, and hot dog stand operators be put out of a job by food replicators a la Star Trek? No one knows for sure. These jobs, though, are some of the unfortunate ones that seem destined for the trash heap of history, and sooner rather than later. It will happen. It’s just a question of when.
How about you? What job do you believe will vanish by 2040? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.