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Nearly half the jobs in Canada are at “high risk” of automation

A new study from the Brookfield Institute finds that 42% of Canadian jobs are vulnerable to being automated, with dire implications for workforces

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Grocery store self-checkout stations

Self-checkout stations are one way that retail sales positions are being eroded. (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty)

A recent study by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship found that up to 42% of the Canadian labour force is at high risk of being affected by automation in the next 10-20 years. Meaning, if your job falls within a certain category, it’s possible that advances in artificial intelligence and advanced robotics could make it obsolete.

“At 42%, if even a portion of that came to be true over the next 10 to 20 years, that would be a huge disruption to Canada’s workforce over a reality short period of time,” says Sean Mullin, executive director of the Brookfield Institute. “What’s also interesting is that there is quite a sharp divide between the skills needed for occupations that are at a high-risk of automation, and those at a low risk.”

High-risk occupations included retail sales people (with a 92% chance of automation), administrative assistants (96%), food counter attendants (91.5%), cashiers (97%) and transport truck drivers (79%).

Conversely, 36% of Canada’s employed labour force falls into the low-risk category, including registered nurses, elementary teachers, early childhood educators, and secondary school teachers—all of which fall within a less than 1% chance of automation.

“If you look at the characteristics of the high and low risk jobs, some things immediately stand out,” says Mullin. “When it comes to low-risk occupations, the level of educational attainment is three-times the level of the high-risk ones—that’s three-times more likely to have a post secondary degree. The average salary of jobs in the low-risk category is also almost double that of the high-risk,” he explains.

“You also see that jobs in the low-risk area are things that involve higher-order cognitive skills, judgment, working with people—things like teaching, looking after young children, high order management, and the ability and affinity to work with computers,” he adds. In other words, skills that robotics will be unlikely to penetrate within the next two decades.

The report cites Canadian Occupation Projection System (COPS) job projections for the next ten years. Current COPS projections call for 712,000 new jobs for low-risk occupations within the next 10 years. As for high-risk occupations? A mere 396,000.

“Technology can and will continue to create jobs in certain sections of the economy, but that will likely happen in what we’ve identified as the low-risk area,” admits Mullin. He’s also quick to point out that COPS projections fail to take into account a rise in automation, meaning its likely that the 396,000 figure will be significantly lower.

“One of reasons we wanted to look into this was to move the debate forwards,” Mullin says. “We don’t want to have a situation where nothing changes and 20 years from now 42% of the workforce is out of a job.” He is quick to make suggestions for what can be done to combat the potential losses—government safety nets, retraining/re-entry programs, and a shift in educational focus are all things he urges Canadians to consider.

“I think it’s something Canadians are going to have to get their heads around, something that employees need to think about when it comes to the type of skills they need to acquire, and something for students to think about as well,” he says. “We’re going to need to start developing structures for people who do end up losing their jobs.”


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