Nearly Half of All Retail Sales Jobs May Soon Be Replaced by Automation

Soon enough, almost no existing occupation will be unaffected by technology.

About 25% of employment in the United States, or 36 million jobs, will be seriously disrupted by automation over the coming decades, according to the Brookings Institution. The researchers added that some 36% (or 52 million) jobs will face medium exposure while another 39% (or 57 million) will experience low exposure to digital technologies by 2030.

“Historically, workplace substitution by machines has freed up humans to focus on higher-value tasks or to create new ones,” the report read. “However, automation hasn’t always carried positive news for workers… Workplace disruption can carry substantial costs for those directly affected, since such workers may need to upgrade their skills or move into new roles.”

From artificial intelligence to robotics, automation is expected to hit the labor force hard, particularly more routine occupations that involve repetitive and thus easily codified tasks.

The Washington, D.C.-based think tank — which analyzed census data as well as statistics from the Labor Department, financial service Moody’s and management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., among others — found that nearly half of retail salespeople will be impacted by digital technologies, with the automation potential at 47%.

For the retail trade sector itself, the automation potential is more than half at 53% — already replacing jobs through self-checkout kiosks, AI concierges, mobile payment systems and Amazon Go-style stores.

Additionally, categories that are now flourishing due to the rapid rise of e-commerce, including warehousing and trucking jobs, are at risk of disruption as robots get smarter and technology continues to improve.

The report revealed that delivery service drivers are predicted to see an automation potential of 78%, while packaging and machine operating positions are forecasted to be entirely hit at 100%.

Still, a wholly AI-driven workforce appears unlikely to happen anytime soon.

“A job is a collection of tasks. Some of those tasks are best done by humans, others by machines,” Brookings added. “Even under the most aggressive scenarios of technological advancement, it is unlikely that machines will be able to substitute for all tasks in any one occupation.”

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