Two out of every five jobs in Ireland are set to disappear or change substantially over the next 20 years because of increasing automation.
Robots, IT, and artificial intelligence are all making growing inroads into the workplace, leaving only a select range of jobs at low risk of take-over.
Those jobs are most likely to be in education, health, social work, information and communications, although it would not hurt to be a high ranking army officer, corporate chief executive, or personal attendant in the leisure industry either.
Employees most likely to find themselves or their skills redundant work in administration, which covers around one in five jobs here.
Also at high risk are people working in transport, warehousing, retail, construction, and agriculture with other jobs traditionally regarded as manual — such as forestry, fisheries, cleaning and food preparation.
The forecast comes from the Government’s Economic Policy Unit, which has taken two international models for measuring the impact of automation and applied them to Ireland.
They differ somewhat in that one puts a higher proportion of jobs in the highest risk category and a lower proportion in the significant risk category, while the other does the reverse, but adding the two categories together in each model, the outcomes are very similar.
“Both models suggest that on average, two of every five jobs is likely to be substantially impacted by automation,” the report says.
Both models identify Dublin and the Mid-East regions as least at risk from the impact of automation, while the Border and South-East regions are most under threat.
Although the regional differences are still quite narrow, the report warns: “The Border and South-East regions already have weaker labour markets which means they will likely be less capable of adapting to automation than regions with more robust and diverse labour markets.”
Education levels in the workforce is also a factor identified in both models, with a degree or postgraduate qualification the best protection against automation.
“Investment in higher education will be an important part of the response,” the report says, adding that lifelong education will also become increasingly important in helping workers adapt.
Automation is already in many workplaces, taking the form of robotics in factories that replace human assemblers, sensors in shops that enable high levels of self-service, or software that analyses data and language without need for manual calculation or translation.
Self-driving vehicles are also on the increase and AI or artificial intelligence is continuously advancing, making inroads into jobs where the ability to read situations, expressions and emotions is no longer exclusively a human trait.
While the report looks broadly at expected developments over the next two decades, it cautions that it is hard to be precise because many factors will influence how quickly automation spreads, including the cost-benefit balance of replacing humans, the ability of enterprise to incorporate new technologies into their production and service delivery processes and the regulatory policies of governments.
The report also says it may not be all bad news for employees.
“The study does not attempt to foresee the creative power of automation which will undoubtedly create new innovative jobs,” it says.
“For this reason, this paper overestimates the negative impact on jobs.”