The jobs related website salary.com has what looked like a fairly interesting analysis this week which purports to discuss “Jobs on the brink” and asks the worrying question as to whether or not your job will be in danger of going extinct or needing to evolve to survive. Sadly, as you’ll see in a moment, a lot of the occupations they selected are either historical relics or fields which are simply shifting with the times. But it’s still a question which does affect many American workers.
First, their list of one dozen (there are expanded explanations for each at the link) and their alleged status:
EXTINCT: Video Store Clerk, Iceman, Newspaper deliverer, Switchboard operator
EVOLVED OR EVOLVING: Librarian, Professional Typist, Umps and refs, Travel agents, Family farmer, Supermarket cashier, Postal worker, On air DJ
The list of extinct jobs seems rather over-obvious for the most part, and they might as well have included “mammoth hunter.” The iceman went away with the advent of refrigeration technology and high speed, online data delivery did pretty much the same to the video store clerk. I would argue that switchboard operators actually “evolved” at individual business offices, but phone company operators no longer need to manually pull wires in and out of connection panels. Newspapers still get delivered, but at least where I live it tends to be done by adults in a vehicle. The days of the kid with the banana seat bike slinging papers into your shrubbery has pretty much faded out. But was that ever really a “job” in the first place?
Defining those other professions as “evolved” or “evolving” seems to be something of a red herring. Technology evolves in essentially every area of our lives and the jobs required to create and deliver it does as well. There are very few things done today in precisely the same way as they were fifty or even twenty years ago, with the exceptions of some boutique, hand crafting specialty fields. (Making custom saddles for horses comes to mind.)
But I think there are some jobs which are either going away or changing so radically that workers can’t reliably make the shift and say in that field. Others have just disappeared because of cultural shifts. One classic example is the small appliance repair shop and the parallel example of the television repairman. My recent experiences with my 20 year old toaster giving up the ghost brought the former to mind. As to the latter, when was the last time you heard of anyone having their broken television repaired and returned to service? We just throw things away now, and if you’re foolish enough to ask about repairing them, you’ll quickly be informed that the repairs will cost more than a new one, and don’t you really want the newer, better model anyway?
I also wonder if the venerable position of bartender is on the way out. Technology may play some role in this (there are already robot barkeeps on the job) but the entire idea of bars seems to be on the wane. Sin taxes drive up the price of liquor and rules about smoking empty out portions of the potential client base. The move to push drunk driving law definitions further and further to the extreme make it so that you’re not even sure if you can have a single beer and then drive home from a bar. We may be disapproving bartenders out of existence.
Are there any others? I’m sure I must be missing a lot of them.