Back-Office Jobs Are Disappearing Fast — But What Will Replace Them?

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest-disappearing office jobs in the US include typists (projected to decline by 33.1 percent by 2026), computer operators (22.8 percent), and data-entry keyers (21.2 percent).

As automation takes over many common office functions, demand for jobs like administrative assistants, office machine operators, and mail sorters is also expected to decline sharply.

The skills people will need to remain competitive in the job market are currently undergoing dramatic shifts. As the demands for certain skills erode, the demands for others are skyrocketing like never before. It will be in every worker’s best interest to retrain themselves so that they can remain gainfully employed over the next few years and decades.

What Skills Does the Future Workplace Demand?

The World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs” report identifies 10 skills that will be in high demand in 2020, compared to the high-demand skills of 2015:


The two lists look largely similar, except for a few key differences:

– Creativity jumped from 10th place to third place.
– Critical thinking is even more important than before.
– Emotional intelligence replaced active listening.
– Cognitive flexibility made the list.
– Quality control has fallen off the list entirely.

If we compare the World Economic Forum’s list to LinkedIn’s analysis of the soft and hard skills companies are after in 2019, we can see some patterns begin to emerge:

Figure 2

Increasingly, the most in-demand skills seem to focus on two key areas: right-brain functions like creativity and left-brain functions like analytical thinking. Rather than leaning to one side or the other, companies are looking for both kinds of aptitudes in equal measure. Highly technical hard skills are necessary to work with the complex machines and processes that arise as technology evolves, yet soft skills like creativity and empathy also grow in value because, regardless of how advanced our tech is, it cannot master these competencies to the extent that humans can.

Let’s examine why both right- and left-brain areas matter and how they come into play in business in three major ways:

1. Working With Data and AI Requires Complex Cognitive Thinking

Since the 1960s, machines have been computing at much faster rates and with higher accuracy than humans can muster. However, in today’s world, computing is simply the most basic function of a computer. Crunching large volumes of data is the fuel that drives more powerful functions like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

McKinsey’s “The Age of Analytics” report stresses that data is one of the most valuable assets for companies today, with the volume of data doubling every three years while costs continue to decrease and storage capacities increase. Consumers use products daily that don’t cost a thing, like social media and smartphone apps. The reason these services remain free is that the companies behind them can mine their users for monetizable data. Data drives enormous profitability for companies like Facebook, which benefits from 2.27 billion monthly active users.

If knowledge is power, having data on nearly a third of the world’s inhabitants definitely makes your company a leader. However, this data needs to be analyzed and interpreted by people who are capable of complex cognitive thinking. Otherwise, the data is useless at best and dangerous at worst.

According to Glassdoor, the highest-paying jobs in America include software architects and engineers who can build systems that produce and process data, as well as data architects and data scientists who can set up and understand complex data architecture. Cloud engineers, responsible for operating the cloud where data is increasingly stored, are also on the list.

2. Creativity and Adaptability Are Necessary for Breakthroughs and Advancements

Leonard Mlodinow, the author of Elastic, states that flexible thinking will be crucial for the future. That’s because one of the side effects of rapid technological advancement is the rapid pace of change in our everyday lives. Processing the large amount of information we consume every day from the media and adapting to big social changes like fighting climate change require all of us to be more elastic in our thinking.

For companies, a failure to adapt and innovate means going out of business, as the ironic example of Kodak demonstrates. In 2012, the company filed for bankruptcy after it failed to debut the world’s first digital camera for fear of disrupting its own leading position in the film market. It had missed out on the digital revolution despite its initial innovation.

According to CareerBuilder, creative jobs like graphic designers, art directors, and film producers are growing. The creative sector is a major competitive advantage for cities like New York, outranking even powerhouses like the financial and technical sectors.

Figure 3

3. Robots Won’t Be Capable of Empathy or Emotional Intelligence Anytime Soon

Eleven of the 20 fastest-growing jobs in the US are in the healthcare or services sector. It’s easy to see why: As much as these jobs may require specialized knowledge or training, they also demand soft skills like empathy, patience, and understanding. These are some of the most difficult traits to program in an AI.

Currently, our technology can only imitate human emotions in a way that is immediately noticeable as inauthentic. Even for people who don’t work in occupations that require high levels of emotional intelligence, traits like empathy will be extremely important for the future, as these skills cannot be replaced by machines just yet. Leaders with great people management abilities will be more likely to succeed in the world of the future, where humans are aided by technology which performs the more logical, analytical functions of their jobs for them.

Automation will replace many jobs that can be somewhat repetitive or don’t require a lot of complex thinking, creativity, or emotional intelligence. The jobs that do require these skills are the jobs that will remain in high demand moving forward. As we shift from wage-based jobs — which don’t value people for the work they do but rather for the hours they work — to meaningful work that makes the most of innately human capacities, the future may unleash even more of our potential for creativity and innovation.

Ashish Deshpande, PhD, is founder and CEO at frevvo Inc.

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Ashish Deshpande, PhD, is founder and CEO at frevvo, Inc. In this role, Ashish has worked directly with more than 100 organizations to cut costs and achieve efficiency in their operations through forms and process automation. He has a PhD in computer science from Yale University.