Worker or machine? The 10 occupations with the highest (and lowest) chance of disappearing in Brazil




Insurance agents, drivers and store clerks are among occupations most likely to be automated.

Insurance agents, drivers and store clerks are among occupations most likely to be automated.

Photo: Getty Images / BBC News Brazil

More than half of the occupations that exist in Brazil today could disappear in about two decades. This is the conclusion of Brazilian researchers who used a model from the University of Oxford (United Kingdom) as a basis and adapted the calculations to the reality of the Brazilian labor market.

They calculate that 58.1% of jobs in the country could disappear in about twenty years due to automation, considering existing technologies. The study advances in relation to other surveys by including informal jobs, in addition to those with a formal contract.

The study concludes that workers in the informal sector are more likely to see their jobs replaced by machines than those with a formal contract.

At the request of BBC News Brasil, researchers linked to the consultancy IDados and the ISE Business School surveyed the ten occupations most likely to be replaced by machines, in addition to the ten that are less “threatened” by technological advances.

See the lists and then understand what these occupations have in common and how the forecast for the Brazilian market compares with results in other countries.

10 occupations most likely to be automated

Data entry operators (typist) – 99%

Mid-level professionals in law and the like (assistant) – 99%

Insurance agents – 99%

Machine operators to manufacture photographic equipment – 99%

Phone salespeople – 99%

Customs brokers – 99%

Accountants and bookkeepers – 98%

Legal secretaries – 98%

Car, taxi and truck drivers – 98%

Store clerks and salespeople – 98%

10 occupations least likely to be automated

Dietitians and nutritionists – 0.4%

Hotel managers – 0.4%

Specialists in pedagogical methods – 0.4%

Specialist doctors – 0.4%

General doctors – 0.4%

Speech therapists and speech therapists – 0.5%

Sex workers – 0.6%

Managers of social welfare services – 0.7%

Psychologists – 0.7%

Education service leaders – 0.7%

Source: ISE Business School and IDados Consulting

What do these professions have in common?

The occupations most likely to be automated “are very well defined, they are things that you can specify very precisely what has to be done and that don’t need much judgment, a lot of human subjectivity to make a decision”, explains the director- president of the consultancy IDados and professor at ISE Business School, Paulo Rocha e Oliveira, one of the authors of the article.

On the other hand, the professions with the lowest chance of being replaced are those with “a lot of interaction and a lot of human subjectivity”, which involve “knowing how to deal with people and solve situations where emotions are very predominant”, summarizes Rocha e Oliveira.

Economist Bruno Ottoni, a researcher at IDados and Ibre/FGV and one of the authors of the article, adds that, in addition to socio-emotional skills, two other key factors help to understand whether a job is more or less susceptible. A job with a high requirement for creativity/originality is more protected, as are occupations that require fine motor skills or are performed in poorly structured environments.

This last point explains, according to Ottoni, why jobs such as gardeners and housekeepers are not very threatened by technology in the short term.

“These are jobs that, despite being generally performed by people with a lower degree of qualification, they require fine motor skills and require the worker to know how to navigate a very unstructured work environment – therefore, they are also protected, because the machine can’t replace it. It still doesn’t have that humanoid thing, a robot with a leg and an arm that will actually operate like a human being.”

The criteria used by them are based on the probabilities of automation calculated by researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, from the University of Oxford – whom Rocha e Oliveira refers to as “the world’s leading authorities on the subject”. Their work focused on the US job market, as BBC News Brasil reported in 2014.



“Not only Brazil, but our neighbors here have to look at this issue carefully”, says economist

Photo: Getty Images / BBC News Brazil

neighboring countries

And how does the Brazilian rate of jobs that are at risk of disappearing compare to other countries? The Brazilian proportion of around 58% is slightly below rates found in other surveys for South American countries, such as Uruguay (63%), Paraguay (63.7%) and Argentina (64.6%).

“Not only Brazil, but our neighbors here have to look at this issue carefully”, says Ottoni.

In Europe, Sweden and the United Kingdom (47% in both) and Ireland and the Netherlands (49% in both) are among the lowest rates. But there are also countries with probabilities close to those of Brazil, such as Portugal (59%) and Croatia (58%), according to data presented in the article.

The researchers point out that the proportion of jobs that can be automated tends to be higher in developing countries than in developed ones, due to the high proportion of low-skilled occupations that are more easily replaced by machines.

Informal versus formal work

In Brazil, up to 62% of the country’s informal jobs could disappear in the next two decades, because of automation, while the probability is 55% for formal jobs, according to the researchers.

And who are the people who tend to occupy the jobs most at risk of automation? “In general, we are talking about people with less schooling. And, generally, the lower level of schooling is also related to some more vulnerable populations – blacks instead of whites, and people from the poorest regions of Brazil, Northeast, North” , says Ottoni.

‘Barriers’ to the use of new technologies

Rocha e Oliveira argues that, more than thinking about professions that will disappear, as a whole, it is necessary to focus on which activities performed by these professionals can be done by machines. He says it’s the nature of work that will change, as it requires humans to focus on tasks computers can’t do, as is already happening.

“When we say that the job will disappear, what we are saying is that many of the tasks that people perform in that job today could be replaced by computers. Does this mean that people will be replaced by computers? others don’t.”



The professions with the lowest chance of replacement are those with

The professions with the lowest chance of being replaced are those with “a lot of interaction and a lot of human subjectivity”, says researcher

Photo: PA Media / BBC News Brazil

He also points out that the fact that there is technology available to replace tasks currently produced by human beings does not mean that it will necessarily be applied by all companies.

The consultant lists at least three factors that can be considered barriers for companies: difficulties in importing some equipment by Brazilian companies; need to train employees to use new technology efficiently; and the competitiveness of each area.

“If none of my competitors are going to make this investment today, it might not be convenient for me to do so. This could lead to some sectors delaying the adoption of these technologies or, eventually, even not adopting them”, says Rocha e Oliveira, who coordinates the creation of a center from the ISE Business School and the consultancy iDados to study automation and productivity issues in Brazilian companies.

‘Labor blackout’?

The researchers argue, in the article, that the results found should not create “panic”, but act as an “alert”, by indicating that new technologies are technically capable of replacing a large part of Brazilian jobs. They point out that it is “through effective policies” that Brazil can “alleviate, or even avoid, the massive loss of jobs due to automation, in the coming decades”.

Ottoni says that “society as a whole” must prepare itself to deal with this scenario – and cites government, companies, the third sector, academia and the worker himself. “For all the agents I mentioned, we won’t be able to escape labor retraining policies.”

Specialist in the labor market, he says that new technologies will lead, at the same time, to the destruction of jobs, but also to the creation of new vacancies. The problem, says the economist, is that there will be a mismatch between these types of vacancies.

If there are no retrained professionals, he says, we can have a scenario in which there will be a lot of open job vacancies, but without being filled – at the same time that there will be many unemployed without finding a replacement.

“The companies themselves, if they don’t bother to train, will be the most affected by what we can call a labor shortage”, says Ottoni.

– Text originally published at https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/brasil-62223093

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