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Millennials: Studies Say Your Work Future Is Not Looking Too Bright

Gallup says nearly 4 in 10 millennials are at high risk of having their job replaced by automation.

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BY Marcel Schwantes - 19 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Millennials now make up the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, outnumbering employees from the Generation X and baby boomer generations. And with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution coming into full swing, the "future of work" is looking gloomy for Millennials.

In Carl Frey and Michael Osborne's "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation? study, they analyzed the number of jobs at risk to technology, and according to their estimates, about 47 percent of total U.S. employment is in the high-risk category of being replaced by automation such as that produced by robots.

A McKinsey & Company report states that "half of today's work activities could be automated by 2055, but this could happen up to 20 years earlier or later depending on various factors, in addition to other economic conditions."

The report says they are most prevalent in manufacturing, accommodation and food service, and retail trade, and include some middle-skill jobs.

So what generation is most at risk?

Millennials and the Future of Work

Gallup conducted their own research using Frey and Osborne's calculations, determining each generation's susceptibility to losing jobs to AI. According to Gallup's analysis, "millennials are the generation most vulnerable to the threat of AI and automation, as they are disproportionately more likely to hold positions that Frey and Osborne estimate as having a strong likelihood to one day be replaced by this new technology."

Should millennials start panicking now? Well, that depends on your current occupation. Nearly four in 10 millennials (37 percent) are at high risk of having their job replaced by automation, compared with 32 percent of those in the two older generations, stated the Gallup report.

What gives?

Career analysts say that the work millennials do early in their careers are easier to replace because they haven't accumulated the job skills of older, more experienced workers who do more complex work requiring problem solving. In other words, at the risk of offending millennials, the work many of them do are simple enough for AI or automation to take over.

But really, no millennials -- whatever their jobs -- are safe from AI.

Jason Dorsey, Chief Strategy Officer at The Center for Generational Kinetics, and a millennials expert, tells Forbes, "[T]he jobs at risk of being replaced by AI are not just the entry-level jobs that people typically assume, but rather the repetitive white collar jobs such as in accounting and financial services. The result is that millennials more than any other generation in today's workforce are at direct risk of having their careers forever altered by AI."

Actually, upon further inspection, non-repetitive white collar jobs are at risk as well. Are you in a management role? An attorney? A journalist? Or even a therapist? Earlier this year, The Guardian reported several occupations at risk to AI, including:

Managers: Bridgewater Associates, the world's largest hedge fund, announced it is developing algorithms to automate management decisions, including the hiring and firing of employees.

Lawyers: An artificial-intelligence lawyer chatbot has successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets across London and New York for free. Dubbed as "the world's first robot lawyer" by its creator, Stanford University student Joshua Browder, DoNotPay helps users contest parking tickets in an easy to use chat-like interface.

Journalists: AI bots are already cranking out business and sports stories for clients like Forbes and the Associated Press. In a June 2015 interview with the Guardian, the co-founder of AI bot-maker Narrative Science predicted "90% of journalism will be computerized by 2030."

Therapists: Human-like "social robots" are already being used to help teach children on the autism spectrum appropriate social behavior. Therapeutic robot pets provide companionship for seniors with dementia. The US military is using a computer-generated virtual therapist to screen soldiers in Afghanistan for PTSD.

The Guardian article also lists drivers and delivery people, recruiters, actors, cookbook authors, music composers, and even poets and novelists at risk to losing jobs to AI and robots.

Preparing for the AI Invasion

Adapting to AI disruption may be your best strategy for survival: "Be the Millennial that thinks about how AI can impact their industry, and find the jobs within the industry that would be hardest to replace through technology," Dorsey tells Forbes.

Or, if you can't beat the bots, join them. The Guardian article suggests "most people in high-skill positions will likely find themselves working alongside their inanimate colleagues, not unlike the way we use computers instead of typewriters and calculators."

Case in point: "IBM Watson, for example, helps doctors diagnose medical conditions and analyze MRIs; Electronic discovery platforms such as Symantec's eDiscovery and Kroll Ontrack, help attorneys sift through thousands of documents in a few hours. And AI-driven services such as FutureAdvisor or Wealthfront help consumers make investment decisions, freeing up human financial advisers to work on more high-net-worth accounts."

Companies employing millennials also need to play a role in calming their fears by sharing plans for their AI implementation. By understanding employees' needs and demonstrating how AI can assist employees, companies can improve employee engagement and amplify workers' performance.

The Gallup report drives home the point: "The best-performing companies -- particularly their human resource departments -- proactively communicate about and plan for the AI revolution as it relates to employees. These leaders look beyond productivity and efficiency; they measure and address employees' emotional states. By understanding employees' needs and demonstrating how AI can assist employees, companies can improve employee engagement and amplify workers' performance."


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