What impact will automation have on the generations?

Today, a debate rages over the severity with which automation, or “the rise of the robots,” will impact our society.

According to one study, nearly half of our jobs could be made obsolete by automation but others are quick to point out that a fear of job-destroying technology is nothing new. It is true that, in the past, technological advances have often ended up creating more jobs than they destroyed — and it’s possible this will happen again. In the short run, though, automation is diminishing the need for many middle-skill jobs, leading us to a labor market polarized between high- and low-skill occupations.

These disappearing jobs are characterized by routine and repetitive tasks, while the high-and low-skill jobs least impacted by automation consist of non-routine tasks not easily replicated by a machine. Broadly speaking, management, professional and service occupations fall into the non-routine category while sales, administrative, construction, transportation, production and repair occupations are considered routine. Analysis from the St. Louis Federal Reserve found that employment in routine occupations flatlined in the early 90s, while employment in non-routine occupations has increased by more than 50%. In other words, the process of job destruction by automation has long since been underway.

As this process advances, those employed in routine occupations will likely be the most impacted by automation. By analyzing interest in routine occupation postings on Indeed we can identify the job seekers who may be putting themselves at risk of premature career obsolescence. In this post, we explore the question from a generational perspective: Who is most interested in these jobs — baby boomers (53-71 years old), who are about to leave the workforce, Gen Xers (37-52 years old), or millennials (20-36 years old), who will have to spend the most time in a workplace transformed by this technology?

Age is but a number in the eyes of a robot

First, we investigated the share of interest each generation was sending to routine work and found that the different generations show strikingly similar patterns of job search behavior.

Baby boomers show the most interest in routine work but millennials and Generation Xers are only one and two percentage points behind, respectively.

This uniformity of interest across the generations tells us that job seekers of all ages are interested in jobs whose functions are more susceptible to automation. The boomers that grew up in a world where manufacturing was king are just slightly more likely than millennials, many of whom have never seen the inside of a factory, to click on a job posting with primarily routine functions as millennials,.

However, breaking down routine and non-routine occupations based on whether they primarily involve cognitive or manual skills reveals some interesting generational differences.

Telemarketers and truck drivers are both routine occupations, but the former relies mostly on cognitive skills while the latter relies more on manual skills. While both routine cognitive and routine manual jobs…

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