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Will Automation or Artificial Intelligence Take Your Job?

Technology has brought us a long way over the years, but what effect will artificial intelligence and automation have on Canada's job market in the long run?

Whether it’s computerized processes replacing workers (automation) or machines being able to make complex decisions and perform tasks normally reserved for people (AI), the way work is being done is changing dramatically. Nothing illustrates that point better than machine learning, the process where a machine learns for itself based on accessible data. Machine learning is already evolving faster than human intelligence and is expected to someday be able to handle the type of complex tasks we assume only people can do.

Should you worry about your job? No matter what you do, it’s a good idea to prepare to work with AI instead of against it.

The issues

When it comes to automation and AI, some of the biggest concerns revolve around how many jobs could potentially be eliminated and what happens to those workers. The Brookfield Institute's report The Talented Mr. Robot: The impact of automation on Canada’s workforce estimates that over 40% of Canadian workers could see their jobs disappear or change significantly in the next 20 years.

As AI picks up speed, the variety and quantity of things it can handle is growing quickly. Consider the range of processes that have already been automated, like various assembly line functions, and the range of products on the horizon such as self-driving cars and trucks. Companies are currently road testing driverless trucks in Alberta and workers could soon be displaced.

Automation may create new jobs, though, to help maintain some of the new products it brings along. Someone will have to design and sell driverless trucks, for example, which will need upgrades and ongoing maintenance. The trucks may drive themselves, but there may still be a need for an operator to be present in case of a malfunction. These are all examples of the types of work people may be retraining for and transitioning to over the next several years.

Rather than thinking of whether AI will be good or bad for you, start thinking about how you can make the most of it.

What industries will be affected?

AI won’t affect all jobs, so if you are just starting your career or making a mid-career change, choose a lower-risk job from the outset. The most easily automated work involves routine, manual tasks. Processing and manufacturing are good examples.

The jobs that are least likely to be affected involve non-routine tasks, like jobs in:

  • Education
  • Law
  • Health care
  • Sciences
  • Arts and culture
  • Recreation and sport
  • Management

That doesn’t mean white-collar jobs are risk-free. AI and machine learning are finding their way into:

  • Finance
  • Investment
  • Insurance
  • Medicine
  • Pharmaceuticals

How can you prepare?

When it comes to getting a jump on the machines, you have some options. What to do will depend on your job and career stage. Here are some things to consider:

  • Further your education and engage in continuous learning: This will be important for finding and keeping jobs. You could consider staying in school, returning to school, or taking part-time training. For example, a piping welder could train to become a robotics welder
  • Prioritize work that requires intuition, empathy, creativity, or hands-on skills: AI will mainly take over routine tasks, freeing workers to focus where only a human could make a difference. Some examples are counsellors, massage therapists, landscapers, or teachers
  • Think about how you could change your job to make the human aspect more central: Businesses will always need strategic thinkers. For example, some accounting tasks may be automated, but financial planners will still do analysis. Robots may replace certain oil and gas jobs, but people will be needed for exploration and production.

To be resilient in the face of AI, you should:

  • Pursue skills in software, computers, and new forms of digital technology
  • Consider training in data science or data analysis. AI can filter and interpret massive amounts of data, but needs people who can extract meaning from those results
  • Hone creative skills, like writing or designing
  • Develop management skills. The people who work with AI will still need to be managed

Remember, jobs aren’t being replaced entirely. They are simply changing and adapting.

Robotics, automation, and AI may create jobs we can’t even think of yet. Take steps now to make sure you’re ready when the time comes.

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