25 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 offered 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 utilized in those dying professions can be applied for a more secure employment future.
2020 median pay: $40,660
Note: Available median pay figures come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), unless otherwise noted.
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.
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: $122,960
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): $43,490
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.
2020 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): $24,880
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: $54,760
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 from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations."
2020 median pay: $87,850
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: $28,040
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: $52,060
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: $32,280
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: $33,490
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: BLS projects 13,200 typists to lose their jobs between 2010 and 2020, and 15,900 data entry clerks to lose their jobs in the same time frame.
Telephone Switchboard Operators
2020 median pay: $30,086
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.
By 2020, there will be 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.
Farmers and Ranchers
2020 median pay (farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers): $71,160
Bottom Line: Farmers and Ranchers
The number of agricultural workers is expected to decline 8 percent from 2010 levels by 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): $23,510
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.
BLS says there will be about 511,400 fast food cooks working in the U.S. in 2020, 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): $41,260
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): $40,870
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): $29,980
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: $46,567
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: $34,120
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: $32,040
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: $65,631
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: $80,750
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): $208,000
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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