By Trudy Parsons 

What occupations and skills are most at risk with automation – and which will remain in demand

A report released by the World Economic Forum – Future of Jobs Report – shares a popular estimate, claiming 65% of children who are just entering primary school will work in new job types that do not yet exist. Imagine how this world of work will evolve for these young people who have grown up in a world where smart technology has been an integral part of their lives. Now consider the impact and implications for workers who have a long history of being active in the labour market. What adjustments will they need to make to ensure ongoing and active employment? New skills, new knowledge, and adaptable behaviours will be the foundation on which workers will propel into the future of work. So, let’s consider what that might look like in 2025 and beyond.

Automation, the human worker’s assistant?

Automation can assist human workers, allowing them to focus on more strategic and creative tasks as well as tasks that never existed before – tasks that will be created in an automated future. According to The Talented Mr. Robot – Impact of Automation on Canada’s Workforce, a report by the Brookfield Institute, 42% of the Canadian labour force is at a high risk of being affected by automation over the next 10-20 years. Jobs that are most at risk include routine work (physical and cognitive) such as retail salespeople, administrative assistants, food counter attendants, cashiers, and transport truck drivers. We see this today. Your next order at McDonald’s will be through its automated kiosks, while a visit to Lowe’s may introduce you to OSHbot, a retail service robot that can guide you to the item you are looking for and even help staff with inventory scanning.

While routine, methodical tasks will be replaced through automation, it is important to note that automation has not yet mastered the human mind. Jobs that fall into the routine stream will go by the wayside, while those that require creativity, negotiation, persuasion and care for others will be less impacted. The Brookfield Institute report offers insight into Canadian occupations and the probability of being affected by automation.

The occupations at a high risk of being affected by automation with the most employees are:

  • Retail salespersons, 92% probability of automation and more than 656,000 employees,
  • Administrative assistants, 96% probability of automation and nearly 329,000 employees,
  • Food counter attendants and kitchen helpers, 91.5% probability of automation and nearly 313,000 employees,
  • Cashiers, 97% probability of automation and nearly 309,000 employees, and
  • Transport truck drivers, 79% probability of automation and nearly 262,000 employees.

Those offering lower risk of impact due to automation include:

  • Retail and wholesale trade managers, 20.5% probability of automation and more than 363,000 employees,
  • Registered nurses (psychiatric included), 0.9% probability of automation and more than 291,000 employees,
  • Elementary and kindergarten teachers, 0.4% probability of automation and more than 271,000 employees,
  • Early childhood educators and assistants, 0.7% probability of automation and nearly 188,000 employees, and
  • Secondary school teachers, 0.8% probability of automation and nearly 174,000 employees.

When we think about the differences in these occupations, we reflect on those at lower risk requiring cognitive skills, people management, and creativity. In looking to the future and thinking about the skills that will be foundational to remain competitive in the labour market, we need to consider the importance of adaptability and resiliency.

According to Fast Company, the top six skills areas for the future of work include:

  • Technology and computational thinking
  • Caregiving
  • Social intelligence & new media literacy
  • Lifelong learning
  • Adaptability & business acumen

The reality is our work and its demand for skills and knowledge has evolved throughout history, and this evolution will only continue. We can’t predict the future with certainty, nor can we know today all the job options that will be available for the graduating class of 2025. What we do know is that career pathways will continue along a spectrum that requires exploration, consideration, and a realization that change is inevitable and we will need to adapt, be resilient, and never lose our desire to learn.


Trudy Parsons is the Executive Vice President with MDB Insight, a national economic development consultancy that promotes the alignment of economic and workforce planning to create stronger pathways to employment. She brings over 20 years of experience working with local community to strengthen the connection between people and jobs.


Brookfield Institute. (2016). The Talented Mr. Robot: The Impact of Automation on Canada’s Workforce. Toronto: Lamb, Creig. Retrieved from

Harvard University. (2017, May 25). Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg Commencement Address. | Harvard Commencement 2017. Retrieved from

Moran, Gwen. (2016, March 31). These Will Be The Top Jobs In 2025 (And The Skills You’ll Need To Get Them). Fast Company. Retrieved from

World Economic Forum. (2016). The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Retrieved from

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