40 Dying Professions You Should Avoid
John Pugliano, author of "The Robots Are Coming: A Human's Survival Guide to Profiting in the Age of Automation," sees plenty of white-collar jobs that will be threatened by automation. "Bottom line, any routine job that can easily be defined by a mathematical or logic equation will be at risk," Pugliano said. "Opportunity will be [there] for those that can create new products/services or solve/fix unexpected problems."
So your accountant may not have a job in the future, but plastic surgeons and emergency room doctors should do well. And plumbers, Pugliano said, will always have work.
Pugliano and other experts contacted by Work + Money noted professions to avoid (not because they will completely disappear, but because the job market will likely be in a state of decline) while also providing alternatives where skills used in those dying professions can be applied for a more secure employment future.
Bottom Line: Lumberjacks
A faller is another name for a lumberjack. They cut down trees with handheld chainsaws.
Faller jobs are incredibly dangerous. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68.9 out of 100,000 workers die in logging jobs each year. As a result, fewer and fewer people want to take this job.
Combined with automation, cutting down trees by hand is indeed a dying profession.
2020 median pay:$51,150
Bottom Line: Mail Sorters
The decline in mail sorting jobs is largely due to the decrease in First-Class mail, which has been accelerated by emails and electronic bill payments.
Automated "delivery point sequencing" systems used for sorting mail are also responsible for the decline in manual mail sorting by 12 percent.
2020 median pay: $57,880
Bottom Line: Patternmakers
Careers in patternmaking in the U.S. are projected to decline by 13 percent by 2028.
The reason? More and more, garment manufacturers are hiring cheap labor overseas. The patternmaking process is also becoming more automated.
Metal Pourers and Casters
2020 median pay:$42,440
Bottom Line: Metal Pourers and Casters
Currently, workers operate mechanisms to regulate the flow of molten metal into molds, but this position is also in danger from automation. Jobs for metal pourers and casters will decline 2 percent by 2030.
Despite this, there are still about 100,000 job openings each year resulting from people who leave the industry or retire.
2020 median pay: $48,560
Bottom Line: Watch Repairers
Watch and clock repairers fix, clean, and adjust mechanisms of all objects that tell time. However, this position is being rendered obsolete. Not many people wear watches these days. Therefore, watch repair jobs are on the decline.
Clock repairs are also less likely as clocks are more mass-produced. Instead of fixing them, people just buy new timepieces.
Watch repair jobs will decline a whopping 24.9 percent by 2030.
2020 median pay: $59,350
Bottom Line: Coal Miner
As the United States shifts focus to more clean energy sources, coal mining jobs continue their downward spiral.
In March and April 2020 alone, over 6,000 coal mining jobs were lost, and dozens of mines closed. The industry has suffered more job losses and mine closures than any other time in history.
From 2012 to 2020 over half the coal mining jobs in the U.S. disappeared.
2020 median pay: $32,320
Bottom Line: Taxi Driver
Apps like Uber and Lyft have made catching a ride easier than ever, even in places where taxis aren't the norm. And that doesn't bode well for traditional cabs.
New York City, once known for its constant stream of yellow taxi medallions, saw 510 foreclosures of taxi medallion-backed loans in 2019 alone.
That's not the only problem cab drivers face. Driverless cars, while not yet the norm, are the future.
Surveyors and Mapping Technicians
2020 median pay: $46,200
Bottom Line: Surveyors and Mapping Technicians
There will always be some need for surveyors and mapping techs, as some positions are specialized and require an advanced degree, but there are others that only require a high school diploma.
The profession will see a loss of over 4,000 jobs through 2024, due to robotics and other technological advancements. According to the BLS, the openings that are available come from the need to replace workers who retire or leave the occupation altogether.
2020 median pay: $ 44,870
Bottom Line: Parking Enforcement
You may still see people handing out parking tickets every day, but that is a job that will likely be automated in the coming years.
According to Recruiter.com, parking enforcement positions have been declining since about 2004 and have decreased by nearly 25 percent nationwide. There will be 2,360 jobs lost by 2029, which is a decrease of about 3 1/2 percent over the next few years.
However, that will not mean fewer tickets.
2020 median pay: $ 43,370
Bottom Line: Prepress Technician
With print media on the decline and newspapers and magazines closing every day, prepress jobs are quickly vanishing.
In 2019, the BLS announced a 5 percent decline in prepress jobs through 2029, due not only to the lack of print media, but also to automation in printing processes.
2020 median pay (waiters and waitresses): $ 27,470
Bottom Line: Restaurant Server
COVID, difficult customers and low wages have made finding waitstaff difficult, but that is not the only thing that is causing a decline in restaurant workers. Robotics are also starting to play a part.
Restaurant consulting firm Aaron Allen & Associates said more than 80 percent of all positions in the industry could be automated, and of those, 37 percent of waitstaff will be affected.
The company said the events of recent years have only made this more likely. "This is just the tip of the iceberg for the industry. And while we’re not saying that every foodservice worker will be replaced with robots — nor suggesting whatsoever that the human element of service be removed — there are a lot of jobs that are ripe for disruption in the industry."
2020 median pay (umpires, referees, and other sports officials): $ 40,140
Bottom Line: Referee
Another job that's in jeopardy is refereeing. Video technology is more accurate than humans are and sports organizations like FIFA are already using it to regulate games.
As with restaurant jobs, COVID, low pay and abuse are keeping people from wanting to take on what was once an enjoyable profession. According to Business Insider, 75 percent of people leave the position within three years of taking it on.
CEO of Payball, Peter Makeover, said: "When they don't get that sense of connection, it simply isn't worth their time."
Herders and Wranglers
2020 median pay: $27,759
Bottom Line: Herders and Wranglers
People, along with dogs and horses, have herded sheep and cattle for centuries, but these jobs may be ending sooner than you think.
While there is still a need for wranglers and herders, drone technology can reach farther than humans can over more acreage.
Drone technology allows farms to save money on monitoring cattle, particularly in hiring ranch hands or using helicopters.
2020 median pay: $41,000
Bottom Line: Elevator Operator
Since 1950, the one job that has almost completely been made extinct is that of an elevator operator.
They were essential in the days of manual elevator operation. Attendants knew how to run an elevator safely, as many users had no idea how to do it themselves.
Advancement in elevator technology made them easy to operate for everyone and eliminated the need for a human attendant. While you still may see a few elevator operators here and there, today, they are mostly a novelty.
Air Traffic Controller
2020 median pay: $130,420
Bottom Line: Air Traffic Controller
As you can imagine, being an air traffic controller is a highly stressful job, with no margin for error. Automation does make things safer, but the byproduct of that is fewer jobs for people.
While there will always likely be air traffic controller jobs, there is a decreased demand for them due to government budget constraints and the Next Generation Air Transportation System, which will transform air traffic control systems from radar to satellite through 2025.
While the conversion will allow airports to handle more traffic, it will reduce the need for new hires at the same time.
2020 median pay: $42,350
Bottom Line: Travel Agent
Thanks to online travel booking sites, everyone is their own personal travel agent these days. The BLS projects that the number of travel agents will decline by 12 percent over the next 10 years.
But travel agents may not completely die out. According to Skift, a global travel industry intelligence provider, "the value-add that agents can bring to the travel experience will be difficult to obviate completely, either through disintermediation or automation."
There is also an alternative career on the rise. The Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts an increase in the need for people who are experts in specific destinations or particular types of travelers. That could include corporate, luxury, study abroad or travelers over 55.
2020 median pay: $58,304
Bottom Line: Mortgage Brokers
The number of traditional mortgage brokers dropped by 80 percent during the Great Recession, and for those who were able to keep their jobs, average salaries dropped by 30 percent.
And the profession hasn’t really recovered, thanks to online brokers like Rocket Mortgage and Guaranteed Rate that make getting an online quote quick, according to Timothy G. Wiedman, a retired professor of management and human resources at Doane University in Nebraska.
Add in that millennials, the home buyers of the future, have grown up doing everything online, and the outlook for mortgage brokers looks bleak at best.
"However, many of the numeric and financial skills possessed by folks who might be attracted to that profession could be utilized elsewhere in the financial services industry," Wiedman said. "So by earning different professional credentials, those folks won't starve."
The BLS doesn’t track mortgage brokers and has no projections for the future of the profession.
2020 median pay (bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks): $41,230
Bottom Line: Bookkeeper
Blame artificial intelligence for the decline of the bookkeeping profession, says Dmytro Arshynov of DMA Financial Management LLC in New York. Sites like QuickBooks Online and Receipt Bank can automatically download your bank account information and prepare a simple Form 1040 and Schedule form.
With the technology constantly improving, Arshynov believes the job of bookkeeping will be eliminated within a decade and replaced with automated technologies.
The BLS projects just a 1 percent drop in the category of bookkeepers, accountants and auditing clerks from 2016 to 2026, but adds that "technological change and automation are expected to reduce demand for these workers."
2020 median pay: $126,930
Bottom Line: Lawyer
The world will always have lawyers, but a lot of the work they do — or used to do — is quickly being taken over by technology.
Pugliano notes that a lot of the work once done by case researchers can now be done with increasingly sophisticated algorithms. His recommendation for aspiring legal eagles is to focus on specializing in non-routine human emotion intense areas, like jury selection or witness profiling.
The BLS has a different point of view about lawyers, projecting an 8 percent overall increase in jobs in the field by 2026.
2020 median pay (reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts): $49,300
Bottom Line: Broadcasters
One in 10 of the nation's 33,202 radio and television announcers are expected to see their jobs disappear by 2026. Consolidation in the industry, as well as increased use of syndicated content, is fueling the decline.
There's also the explosion of streaming music services. More and more listeners prefer that over their local, drive-time disc jockey.
The BLS projects a 9 percent decline in the category of reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts, with about 4,500 total jobs going away.
2021 median pay: $75,246
Bottom Line: Middle Managers
The paper-pushing done by middle managers is increasingly being done by enterprise software like Oracle and Salesforce.
People in those jobs, Pugliano said, should focus on revenue-producing functions like client relationships, sales or new product development.
The BLS doesn’t track middle managers as an employment category and thus has no projections.
2020 median pay (gaming service workers): $27,050
Bottom Line: Casino Cashier
There are plenty of opportunities in gaming as more and more states legalize gambling, but cashier is not one of them. Casinos are increasingly turning to automated machines to reduce labor costs, meaning the man or woman in the casino cage is going the way of the one-armed-bandit-style slot machines.
The growth in the industry is expected to fuel demand for dealers. But there is a downside: While the number of dealers is expected to grow by 8.7 percent over the next 10 years, they earn significantly less than cashiers ($19,552 per year versus $22,970).
Overall, the BLS projects a 2 percent increase by 2026 in the category of gaming service workers, which is slower than average for all occupations.
2020 median pay: $55,510
Bottom Line: IT Support
Or, as they’re also known, system and server administrators.
With so much of computing becoming cloud-based, the general IT person who patrolled your office is becoming less and less relevant in today's workforce, says Nicholas C. Fiorentino, chief executive at CrediReady. The change is already happening at smaller businesses, which find it cheaper and more efficient to outsource the work.
"The good news is, it is creating the opportunity for programmers, freelancers and system administrators willing to pivot to manage their client servers remotely and profitably, and at better scale," Fiorentino said.
The BLS take on the category: "Employment of network and computer systems administrators is projected to grow 6 percent by 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations."
2020 median pay: $89,330
Bottom Line: Financial Planners
Tasks once performed by low-level retail financial planners are quickly being outsourced to planning software, apps, robo-advisors and investing algorithms, Pugliano says.
Investopedia puts it this way: "Robo-advisors will also likely be employed by every firm in one capacity or another. In 10 years they will likely be able to follow very sophisticated strategies that employ a measure of judgment regarding buy and sell decisions."
Pugliano does see an opening in the future. "[An] opportunity remains for those than can implement market-timing strategies along with asset protection and risk mitigation," he adds.
2020 median pay: $29,140
Bottom Line: Floral Designers
The number of flower arrangers fell 25.6 percent between 2005 and 2015 and is projected to fall another 16.6 percent between 2015 and 2025.
Blame the internet and its burgeoning business of flower delivery, as well as a push by supermarkets to bolster their floral departments and sell loose flowers directly to customers.
The visual design skills used by floral designers, however, are easily transferable to the higher-paying professions of interior design and merchandise display, both of which are growing.
2020 median pay: $51,150
Bottom Line: Postal Workers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the number of postal workers, including mail carriers and clerks, will drop by 28 percent by 2026. Online bill paying and keeping in touch with friends on social media are the biggest culprits in the dreary outlook for workers in the United States Postal Service. Mail sorters will be hardest hit, with a drop of 50 percent in available jobs, according to BLS.
Yes, many online retailers use the postal service to deliver packages, but that demand doesn't make up fully for other areas of decline. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, "Automated sorting systems, cluster mailboxes and tight budgets will adversely affect employment."
In 2017, the postal service delivered 149 billion pieces of mail, down from 212 billion a decade earlier. And if you think Amazon will save the U.S. Postal service, think again. The company is aggressively building out its own network of delivery drivers in an effort to reduce costs and increase the availability of same-day delivery to better compete with brick-and-mortar retailers.
2020 median pay: $34,720
Bottom Line: Photo Processor
Digital photography continues to make job hunting tough for people who work with film. There are just 23,853 photo processors remaining in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and their ranks are expected to decrease by 19.7 percent by 2026.
Fear not, shutterbugs: The need for photographers is on the increase. That profession is expected to increase by 12 percent to 155,286 jobs by 2026. Portrait and commercial photographers — the people who take photos for businesses and advertising firms — are expected to see the greatest growth over the next decade.
Data Entry Clerks
2020 median pay: $38,100
Bottom Line: Data Entry Clerks
These workers are expected to be the hardest hit in an overall decline in opportunities for the broader category of office and administrative workers. Once again, we can thank — or blame — technology.
Word processing, voicemail and the internet mean we end up doing a lot of the tasks that once would have been delegated to an administrative assistant.
The profession had actually been in decline for several years and then saw a rapid increase in decline during the recession. The economic recovery hasn't been applied to people in this line of work: 13,200 typists lost their jobs between 2010 and 2020, and 15,900 data entry clerks lost their jobs in the same time frame.
Data entry will decline by 25 percent through 2029.
Telephone Switchboard Operators
2020 median pay: $30,723
Bottom Line: Telephone Switchboard Operators
Yes, there are still a few people who work as operators, but their numbers have been declining for decades and are projected to fall another 33 percent in the next 10 years.
In 2020, there were just 109,300 people working as switchboard operators.
Once again, blame technology. We even heard about an office that is using Amazon’s Alexa to direct phone calls to the right recipient. Texting, voice mail and other AI-enhanced systems could make this job obsolete even sooner than projected.
2020 median pay (farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers): $68,090
Bottom Line: Farmers
The number of agricultural workers declined 8 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It’s not because people are eating less, but because farmers are getting more efficient, replacing workers with machinery and getting bigger yields out of smaller plots of land.
Still, with the world population expected to grow by 2.3 billion people by 2050, according to the United Nations, farming will remain a widespread and necessary profession.
Fast Food Cook
2020 median pay (cooks): $27,250
Bottom Line: Fast Food Cook
The promise of technology is that it will make low-paying jobs obsolete. And nothing is more symbolic of the bottom of the employment food chain than fast food cook, which is one of the few jobs in our list that require less than a high school diploma.
In 2020, there were 511,400 fast food cooks working in the U.S. down 3.6 percent from 2010.
The reason? Fast food is increasingly becoming an automated industry. The chains have found it cheaper to prepare food off-site and simply have employees reheat it in their stores.
That was unthinkable in most fast food businesses even a decade ago, but food technology has advanced to the point where the microwaved version doesn’t lack the flavor of the cooked-on-site version.
2020 median pay (reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts): $49,300
Bottom Line: Newspaper Reporter
Given that circulation has been dropping for 17 straight years and Sunday circulation of the nation’s newspapers are at their lowest levels since 1945 — when there were significantly fewer people — and it's no wonder that the people who fill the paper with news are losing their jobs.
Look for nearly one in 10 reporters to lose their jobs in the next 10 years, according to BLS.
2020 median pay (jewelers and precious stone and metal workers): $41,900
Bottom Line: Jeweler
With more and more jewelry being produced overseas, there are fewer and fewer jewelers working in the U.S. BLS projects an 11 percent decline in the number of jewelers by 2024.
A 2014 report from McKinsey & Company says of the jewelry industry: "Consequential changes are under way, both in consumer behavior as well as in the industry itself. Jewelry players can’t simply do business as usual and expect to thrive; they must be alert and responsive to important trends and developments or else risk being left behind by more agile competitors."
Textile Machine Workers
2020 median pay (pressers, textile, garment and related materials): $26,050
Bottom Line: Textile Machine Workers
Another job that requires minimal education, the low-skilled machine working is increasingly being done overseas. The decline affects setters, operators and tenders of textile knitting and weaving machines.
But workers who have slightly more specialized skills, like skilled manufacturers, are seeing a slight increase in the number of opportunities available to them.
An even better option? Train to be a machinist. The number of people who use lathes, milling machines and grinders to make bolts and other parts are expected to see the number of available jobs grow by 12.9 percent by 2026.
The BLS projects a 7 percent decline of jobs in the pressers, textile, garment and related materials category.
2020 median pay: $59,500
Bottom Line: Furniture Finisher
These craftspeople shape, finish and refinish damaged and worn furniture. But with furniture prices constantly declining it's now often cheaper to replace than it is to repair a broken chair or table.
Furniture finishers who work in production — the making of new furniture — are no better off as the process becomes automated, moved overseas or both.
BLS projects the number of furniture finishers to fall 0.7 percent to 20,113 by 2026.
2020 median pay: $36,740
Bottom Line: Door-to-Door Salespeople
It really is the death of the salesman: About one in five of these jobs will be gone by 2026, according to BLS. Targeted, online advertising is far more efficient than having someone brave the elements, over-protective dogs and customers who just aren’t interested.
There are, however, still plenty of opportunities for salespeople. Insurance sales agents, on average, earn close to double what door-to-door salesmen earn, and their numbers are growing: the number of people working in the field will expand by 10.6 percent to 651,215 by 2026, according to BLS.
Print Binding and Finishing Workers
2020 median pay: $ 36,430
Bottom Line: Print Binding and Finishing Workers
While this job is expected to diminish at a slower pace in the coming decade than it did in the past decade, it’s still not a good time to be in the printing business.
Hardest hit in the industry are the people who bind and finish books, thanks to increased automation and decreased demand.
By 2026, the number of people working in binding and finishing will drop by 10.6 percent, according to BLS.
2020 median pay: $67,290
Bottom Line: Detective
Surveillance cameras, spyware and DNA databanks make it easier to solve crimes, so Pugliano in his book on the coming age of robots said he sees the decline of the traditional gumshoe detective depicted for generations in mystery novels.
The BLS isn't predicting a decrease in private eyes or investigators soon — in fact, the BLS projects a 7 percent increase, about average growth. Nor is the BLS predicting decreases for architects or physicians, which are the next two professions on this list. However, our experts predict these professions will have to change drastically to stay relevant.
Pugliano predicts police work in the future will focus more on criminal rehabilitation and reducing recidivism, and less on solving crimes.
2020 median pay: $82,320
Bottom Line: Routine Architect
Jim Molinelli is a licensed architect who has taught architecture at Texas A&M University. But he doesn’t see a bright future for people looking to get into the field.
To become a licensed architect requires five or six years of college and another three to five years of internships. "All that to earn far less than the public assumes, and provide a service that is not exclusive or in demand," Molinelli said.
Molinelli points out that a lot of the services architects provide can be provided by people who do not have licenses.
"In the corporate world, engineers can do the same tasks, and in a residential application, anyone can draw plans for new homes or for remodeling permits as long as they comply with the current codes," he said. "With the ability to do it yourself, or hire other non-licensed alternatives for work on housing, the public almost never sees a value in spending to hire an architect."
The BLS predicts a 4 percent increase in jobs for architects, which is a slower-than-normal growth pace.
Maybe Even Primary Care Physicians?
2020 median pay (physicians and surgeons): $213,270
Bottom Line: Primary Care Physicians
As Pugliano said, the primary care physician you go to for your annual physical or when you're feeling under the weather may be going the way of doctors that make house calls. Routine diagnostics for things like strep throat and ear infections will be replaced with cheap, in-home tests.
"The alternative will be for doctors to spend less time diagnosing illness and more time on addressing human factors that produce better wellness outcomes: counseling for obesity and addiction, performance coaching, or addressing urgent conditions like emergency room doctors or first responders," he said.
Don't worry, artificial intelligence (AI) isn't about to replace your doctor anytime soon, but it may shift the job market and change the day-to-day work for many physicians.
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