By Michael B. Sauter
Since textile workers in England were replaced by mechanized looms in the 19th century new technologies have been continuously taking the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of laborers. In the 20th century -- the age of machinery, robotics, and computers -- the United States has seen the loss of millions of factory jobs. Now, in the era of the Internet and further automation, a new generation of full-time workers is on the verge of losing their positions to technology. 24/7 Wall Street used information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to identify the jobs that will lose the largest percentage of their current positions over the next decade.
Many jobs are in industries where technological advancement has already caused major reductions in the workforce. Now, further contraction is expected in those same industries as workers who were trained to oversee the machines are themselves replaced by new machines and software that manage the old machines. For example, more than 50,000 postal workers formerly assigned to oversee the mail sorting machines will lose their jobs as newer automated machines are implemented.
In addition, some of the world's newest industries, including semiconductors and computers, are already replacing major sections of employees because of further improvements. The components of semiconductors are now too small for humans to process, and automatic software updates for computer systems, both in the office and the factory, can now be done automatically, or from a central location.
Not just technology is causing job losses. Changing trends in personal preferences and business practices are also affecting people's livelihoods. Less people wear watches and use film-loaded cameras, and so hundreds of repair-persons in both fields will lose their jobs due to lack of demand. In some cases, these industries are essentially dying, losing 30 to 40 percent of their workforces in the process. The Postal Service and the publishing industry are being killed by the Internet. Soon, they will lose hundreds of thousands of additional jobs as they continue to shrink.
9. Watch Repairers
- Decline by 2018: -13.84%
- 2008 Employment: 3,200
- Median Annual Income: $37,180
Watch repairers, or horologists, build and repair wrist and pocket watches. There were just 3,200 horologists in the entire country last year. By 2018, that number will drop by an additional 400, or 13.84 percent. According to the BLS' Occupation Outlook Handbook: "Employment of watch repairers is expected to decline rapidly. The high cost of repairs will compel many consumers to replace their watches rather than have them fixed."
- Decline by 2018: -14.48%
- 2008 Employment: 7,400
- Median Annual Income: $37,600
Paperhangers primarily install, repair or replace wallpaper in homes, but they also work on billboards and signs. There were 7,400 paperhangers in 2008. By 2018, that number will decline 15 percent to 6,300. Like painters, paperhangers usually run their own businesses, often after first apprenticing with an expert. Paperhanger positions, according to the BLS, "should decline rapidly as many homeowners take advantage of easy application materials and resort to cheaper alternatives, such as painting." The BLS warns that hangers should expect "long periods of unemployment" as a result of reduced demand.
7. Camera and Photographic Equipment Repairers
- Decline by 2018: -15.4%
- 2008 Employment: 4,600
- Median Annual Income: $37,180
As the digital camera continues its takeover of the photography industry, and film is increasingly a novelty, the livelihoods of camera repairers will be threatened. According to the BLS, "Employment is expected to drop more than 15 percent." While these individuals increasingly work with digital cameras as well, the bureau states that "technological improvements mean that most consumers prefer to replace broken cameras with newer models, even at the high end, saving on the high cost of repair." While the BLS adds that there are some opportunities for individuals working at warranty repair centers, this will not be enough to offset a net decline of nearly 700 jobs by 2018.
6. Computer Operators
- Decline by 2018: -18.1%
- 2008 Employment: 110,000
- Median Annual Income: $36,390
Computer operators work across a variety of businesses, in offices and factories. They are responsible for the regular upkeep of the computer systems at their business, updating software, maintaining logs, keeping them virus-free. It may be difficult to imagine that a job with the word computer in its title is also in danger of becoming outdated, but that is increasingly the case. The BLS states that "advances in technology are making many of the duties performed by these workers obsolete. The expanding use of software that automates computer operations gives companies the option of making systems more efficient, but greatly reduces the need for operators." As operators lose their jobs, software designers and manufacturers are becoming some of the fastest-growing jobs in the country. These are the people developing the software that will replace operators.
5. Desktop Publishers
- Decline by 2018: -22.54%
- 2008 Employment: 26,400
- Median Annual Income: $36,610
There may be no industry that has shown greater signs of decline in the past decade than the publishing industry. Desktop publishers are responsible for preparing material for physical printing. While some work for companies not in the publishing industry, the majority are either employed by newspapers and magazines or publishing houses. In addition, desktop publishers are reportedly losing positions in others industries, as well, because more general employees are being trained with the basic tools to do their own publishing when necessary. In addition, the BLS reports, "increased computer-processing capacity and the widespread availability of more elaborate desktop publishing software will make it easier and more affordable for non-printing professionals to use."
4. Drilling Machine Operators and Tenders
- Decline by 2018: -26.87%
- 2008 Employment: 33,000
- Median Annual Income: $33,130
Millions of factory jobs have been lost or moved overseas in the past few decades as the result of improvements in technology. No factory-based position is expected to decline more in the next 10 years than those that work with drilling and boring machines. Operators of these machines usually spend the day on the assembly line, overseeing the process of these machines, and making sure that there are no malfunctions. According to the BLS, "Many firms are adopting new technologies, such as computer-controlled machine tools and robots in order to improve quality, lower production costs and remain competitive. The switch to computer-controlled machinery requires the employment of computer control programmers and operators instead of machine setters, operators and tenders."
3. Postal Service Mail Sorters, Processors and Processing Machine Operators
- Decline by 2018: -30.32%
- Current Employment: 179,900
- Median Annual Income: $53,080
The Internet has arguably hurt the postal service more than any other business. The drastic reduction in mail delivery has cost thousands of jobs in delivery and caused many post office closures around the country. Now, mail sorting jobs are set to disappear as a new automated system is implemented. Between 2008 and 2018, more than 54,500 jobs, or about 30 percent of current positions, are expected to vanish.
2. Semiconductor Processors
- Decline by 2018: -31.53%
- 2008 Employment: 31,600
- Median Annual Income: $33,130
Surprisingly, the relatively young semiconductor industry is set to shed much of its workforce. Approximately 10,000 jobs, or 31.53 percent of the total workforce, will be gone by 2018. Improvements in technology have made chip components increasingly tiny, essentially invisible to the naked eye. According to the BLS, "Because the components are so small, it is now impossible for humans to handle chips in production, since these chips are so sensitive to dust and other particles. As a result, there has been a decline in semiconductor processor employment for many years, despite a strong domestic industry. As technology advances, the decline in employment is expected to continue."
1. Bleaching and Dyeing Machine Operators and Tenders
- Decline by 2018: -44.83%
- 2008 Employment: 16,000
- Median Annual Income: $22,970
The textile industry will lose more than 100,000 jobs between 2008 and 2018, partly because manufacturers are continuing to move production overseas for cheap labor, and partly because jobs are also being replaced domestically. The jobs that the BLS expects will be hit hardest are those of tending and operating machines that bleach and dye fabrics. "Technological developments, such as computer-aided marking and grading, computer-controlled cutters, semiautomatic sewing and pressing machines, and automated material-handling systems have increased output while reducing the need for some workers in larger firms." More than 7,000 positions, or 44.8 percent of the total workforce, will no longer exist eight years from now.
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