AI Could Threaten White-Collar Workers' Jobs: Report
Sat, April 17, 2021

AI Could Threaten White-Collar Workers' Jobs: Report

A two-year study from the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that intelligent agents and robots could eliminate as much as 30% of the world’s human labor / Photo by: Phat1978 via Shutterstock

 

Artificial intelligence has the potential to bring great economic benefits, with reports showing that it could contribute up to $15 trillion to global GDP by 2030. However, with the increasing AI breakthroughs, the concern of AI taking over jobs has also become more evident. Some believe that it will steadily and inevitably take over large industries. Worse, it will bring mass-scale unemployment and social unrest.

Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, Oxford academics, estimated that 47% of American jobs are at high risk of automation by mid-2030s. Research by McKinsey Global Institute reported that by 2030, between 40 million and 160 million women worldwide may need to transition between occupations. One of the jobs that are susceptible to automation is clerical work, which is done by secretaries, bookkeepers, and schedulers. 

With this kind of news, humans have become more and more scared of losing their jobs. The recent CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness survey reported that 27% of all workers are worried that their jobs would be eliminated within the next five years due to advancements in technology. According to CNBC, the world leader in business news and real-time financial market coverage, younger workers have higher fears about automation and jobs. The survey revealed that 37% of workers between the ages of 18 and 24 are worried about new technology eliminating their jobs. 

Dan Schawbel, research director of Future Workplace and author of “Back to Human,” stated that technology, like AI, becoming normalized is one of the reasons for the age-based fear gap. “They are starting to see the value of [AI] and how it’s impacting their personal and professional lives. We’re using AI without even thinking about it. It’s a part of our lives. If you are talking to Siri or Alexa, that’s AI,” Schawbel said. 

How White-Collar Jobs Will Be Affected

A two-year study from the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that intelligent agents and robots could eliminate as much as 30% of the world’s human labor. It would displace the jobs of as many as 800 million across the world, and white-collar jobs would be heavily affected. White-collar workers are suit-and-tie workers who work at a desk. They belong to a class of employees known for earning higher average salaries for doing highly skilled work. 

A recent report by the Brookings Institution revealed that better educated and better paid white-collar workers will be the most affected by AI. This goes against previous findings showing that less-educated and lower-wage workers would have been most exposed to automation. According to TechRepublic, an online trade publication and social community for IT professionals, jobs like sales managers, market research analysts, management analysts, programmers, and engineers are especially susceptible to the data-driven inroads of AI. These jobs are often analytic or supervisory roles.

A recent report by the Brookings Institution revealed that better educated and better paid white-collar workers will be the most affected by AI. This goes against previous findings showing that less-educated and lower-wage workers would have been most exposed to automation / Photo by: Pressmaster via Shutterstock

 

Also, some jobs that may be AI targets include positions in the agriculture and manufacturing industries. "Whereas our and other's work has shown that less-educated, lower-wage workers appear most exposed to potential disruption from robotics and software, Webb's AI exposure estimates, and our analyses here suggest the opposite pattern: Better-educated, better-paid workers will be the most affected by the new technology, with some exceptions," the report said. 

Michael Webb, a Stanford University doctoral candidate, had analyzed the overlap between more than 16,000 AI-related patents and more than 800 job descriptions. The findings showed that workers who hold a bachelor’s degree are five times more likely to be exposed to AI compared to those with only a high school degree. This is because AI’s specialty revolves around completing tasks that require learning, problem-solving, reasoning, and predicting. 

The report showed some jobs that would face some of the highest exposure to AI soon. This includes physicists (median salary: $120,950 per year), political scientists (median salary: $117,570 per year), chemical engineers (median salary: $104,910 per year), administrative law judges, and adjudicators and hearing officers (median salary: $94,790 per year).

Webb added that AI is great at tasks involving optimization and judgment. “So if you’re optimizing ads as an online marketer or a radiologist interpreting medical scans, all of these things take a long time for humans to be good at them. But when it comes to algorithms, once you have the right training data, they tend to be better than humans,” he said. 

AI Could Create More Jobs

However, many experts stated that workers shouldn’t worry. While there are jobs where a large number of tasks are suitable for AI, there are a large number of occupations where a small number of tasks are suitable for AI. This means that robots stealing our jobs is something that people should worry less about.

The “Future of Jobs 2018” report conducted by the World Economic Forum revealed that machines and algorithms in the workplace are expected to create 133 million new roles. AI growth could also create 58 million net new jobs in the next few years. According to Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, out of more than 300 global companies, 50% are expecting their full-time workforce to shrink by 2022 due to automation. However, 40% are expecting to extend their workforce while more than 25% are expecting automation to create new roles in the enterprise.

"It is critical that business takes an active role in supporting their existing workforces through reskilling and upskilling, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning, and that governments create an enabling environment to facilitate this workforce transformation. This is the key challenge of our time," Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman, said. 

Indeed, AI could threaten jobs while also providing more jobs. It’s up to the companies and industries to manage their workforce while effectively integrating AI in their businesses and services. 

However, many experts stated that workers shouldn’t worry. While there are jobs where a large number of tasks are suitable for AI, there are a large number of occupations where a small number of tasks are suitable for AI / Photo by: Pressmaster via Shutterstock