10 Jobs That Are Safe From the Robots

Occupations That Aren't at Risk of Automation

Young female engineer using digital tablet to operate Robotic Arm
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Are you worried about robots taking your job—or do you think your occupation is safe from automation? The odds of your job disappearing might be greater than you think.

Over the next 10 to 20 years, 47% of U.S. jobs are at risk of automation, according to Oxford researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne. Their paper, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?” looked at the probability of automation for 702 occupations. Their research showed that higher-paying jobs requiring more education were less at risk.

Jobs That Are at the Most Risk of Automation

Not every white-collar job has a solid occupational outlook in the age of robots. In short, the jobs that are most at risk are the ones that involve repetitive work that a robot (or a software program) can perform more cheaply than a human.

While manufacturing and transportation jobs are at risk, so are office jobs like insurance underwriter, tax preparer, and library technician.

If you’re contemplating a career change, and want to pick an occupation at low risk of robot takeover, your best bet is obviously to choose one that humans do better than machines. Specifically, you might want to target jobs that involve what Frey and Osborne identify as three “computerisation bottlenecks”:

  • Perception and Manipulation – Finger or manual dexterity, or the necessity to work in cramped spaces/awkward positions
  • Creative Intelligence – Originality and fine arts
  • Social Intelligence – Social perceptiveness, negotiation, persuasion, and caring for others

Top 10 Jobs That Are Safe From Robots

These jobs had the lowest chance of being automated in the next decade or two, according to the Frey and Osborne’s research. Note that they each include at least one of the bottlenecks described in the paper—dexterity, creative intelligence, or social intelligence.

1. Recreational Therapists

These therapists create and administer recreation-based programs based on arts, sports, music games, etc. They typically work in hospitals, retirement communities, and parks and recreation departments. Most recreational therapists have a bachelor’s degree and many are certified.

  • Median Annual Income: $48,220
  • Occupational Outlook 2019-2029: 8%

2. First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics, Installers, and Repairers

First-line supervisors of mechanics, installers, and repairers might work in a variety of industries, including automobile repair/dealers, local government, electric power generation, natural gas, and construction. These jobs typically require a high school diploma and on-the-job training.

  • Median Annual Income: $67,460
  • Occupational Outlook 2019-2029: 4%

3. Emergency Management Directors

This job requires a bachelor’s degree plus experience in disaster planning or a related field. Emergency management directors coordinate between agencies, non-profits, and officials in emergency situations.

  • Median Annual Income: $74,590
  • Occupational Outlook 2019-2029: 4%

4. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Social workers typically need a master’s degree and licensure – a lot of education for a job that can be grueling and not particularly remunerative. However, the job offers a chance to make a difference to people who need it most.

  • Median Annual Income: $46,650 
  • Occupational Outlook 2019-2029: 25% (for all substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors)

5. Audiologists

Audiologists diagnose and treat hearing loss and related problems. This high-paying, fast-growing occupation also requires a significant investment in education. Audiologists need a doctoral degree and licensure to practice.

  • Median Annual Income: $77,600
  • Occupational Outlook 2019-2029: 13%

6. Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists help patients regain and maintain the skills required to live as independently as possible. This fast-growing occupation typically requires a master’s degree and licensure.

  • Median Annual Income: $84,950
  • Occupational Outlook 2019-2029: 16% 

7. Orthotists and Prosthetists

People with these jobs create artificial limbs and other medical devices to help patients regain mobility. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that this occupation is growing quickly in part because “the large baby-boom population is aging, and orthotists and prosthetists will be needed because both diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the two leading causes of limb loss, are more common among older people.” Orthotists and prosthetists must have a master’s degree and certification.

  • Median Annual Income: $68,410
  • Occupational Outlook 2019-2029: 17%

8. Healthcare Social Workers

Healthcare social workers often work in hospitals, performing case management and helping patients and families navigate the healthcare system. These jobs typically require a master’s degree and licensure.

  • Median Annual Income: $56,750 
  • Occupational Outlook 2019-2029: 13% (for all social workers)

9. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

These dental specialists diagnose and treat defects in the face, jaw, and mouth. This occupation requires significant education: typically, four years of dental school and four to six years of residency.

  • Median Annual Income: $173,470
  • Occupational Outlook 2019-2029: 3% (for dentists)

10. First-Line Supervisors of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers

People in this occupation manage and direct firefighters and related workers. First-line supervisors of fire fighters and prevention workers typically have a postsecondary nondegree award and on-the-job training.

  • Median Annual Income: $77,800
  • Occupational Outlook 2019-2029: 6%

What These Automation-Safe Jobs Have in Common

Unsurprisingly, when the Oxford team ranked occupations in terms of low potential for automation, healthcare professions topped the list. These jobs typically require caring for others, social perceptiveness, and dexterity. They may even involve creativity and negotiation. (Just ask any registered nurse.)

The most significant thing about the list is that there are jobs for all education levels and interests.

Look at the range of occupations in the ranking. Audiologists, emergency management directors, and first-line supervisors of mechanics have very different skill sets—but the unique requirements of their jobs make these occupations much easier for a human than a robot.

Bottom line, building a career that’s safe from the robots may require additional education and training, as well as some careful planning. But it might not require a wholesale shift in interests and priorities.

Key Takeaways

47% of U.S. Jobs Are at Risk: Lower-paying jobs that require less education are more at risk.

Robot-Proof Your Career: Jobs that require manual dexterity, creativity, and/or social intelligence are harder to automate.

Healthcare Jobs Dominate Automation-Resistant Professions: However, jobs in other fields have a strong occupational outlook and may not require as much investment in education.

Article Sources

  1. University of Oxford. “The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation?” Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.

  2. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Recreational Therapists.” Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.

  3. CareerOneStop. “First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics, Installers, and Repairers.” Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.

  4. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Emergency Management Directors.” Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.

  5. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers.” Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.

  6. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors.” Accessed September 24, 2020.

  7. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Audiologists.” Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.

  8. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Occupational Therapists.” Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.

  9. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Orthotists and Prosthetists.” Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.

  10. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Healthcare Social Workers.” Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.

  11. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Social Workers.” Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.

  12. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.” Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.

  13. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Dentists.” Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.htm

  14. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. “First-Line Supervisors of Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers.” Accessed September 24, 2020.