In the coming years, many jobs are likely to disappear due to automation, while others will be altered forever. But who is most interested in these “at risk” jobs? Is it younger job seekers, who will have to live with the consequences of their career choices for decades? Or older ones, who may be on the verge of retirement?
To answer this question, we broke down job postings on Indeed into groups of occupations that have a high or low intensity of repetitive or routine tasks. Broadly speaking, management, professional and service occupations fall into the non-routine category while sales, administrative, construction, transportation, production and repair occupations are considered routine.
Within each of these categories we also divided occupations based on whether they primarily emphasize cognitive skills or manual skills. While both routine cognitive and routine manual jobs have functions that could be automated, understanding generational differences along these lines is still useful because employment levels and projections for cognitive and manual occupations differ quite dramatically.
So which generation shows the most interest in jobs susceptible to automation? Let’s take a look at the data.
Generational interest in high- and low-risk occupations
The majority of job seekers in all three groups under consideration – Millennials, Generation X and Boomers – show interest in routine jobs. Interest coming from Millennials and Generation X is almost equally split between job postings classified as routine or non-routine, while a relatively lower share of Boomers (43%) is interested in the non-routine category.
This shows us that the younger cohorts of job seekers in our sample tend to be more interested in jobs that involve a lower degree of routine tasks, a characteristic that often makes them harder to automate.
Millennials and Generation Xers are also significantly more interested than boomers in cognitive occupations. The biggest divergences in preferences between Australian millennial and boomer jobseekers can be found in the categories of routine cognitive and routine manual jobs. Older boomers turn out to be 49% more likely than younger millennials to show interest in a range of routine manual occupations that include installation maintenance and repair, transportation and material moving, and personal care occupations, while millennials are 26% more likely than boomers to show interest in routine cognitive roles like office administration.
Australian job seekers of different ages show a fairly similar level of interest in jobs that are less likely to be automated, such as those classified as non-routine cognitive occupations, while Generation Xers have the highest appetite of all for these jobs. Interestingly, these search patterns resemble those of US jobseekers more than those based in the UK.
When it comes to job search preferences, each generation has its own taste
Going a step further into more detailed occupations, we can see that Australian millennials have an above average level of interest in jobs in office administration and food preparation as well as arts, education and the life, physical and social sciences.
With the exception of food preparation, all these occupations fall into the category of cognitive occupations, and three of them (arts, education, and sciences) fall into the category of non-routine cognitive — that is, jobs that have a lower likelihood of being automated any time soon.
Conversely, when compared to the average job seeker, Boomers tend to be more drawn towards job openings in personal care and service, transportation and material moving and installation, maintenance and repair. These occupations fall in the category of manual occupations, and two of them are also classified as routine – the group of jobs most associated with a high likelihood of automation in the future.
When it come to choosing an industry, these two generations show significant differences in taste, while the “middle” Generation X finds itself in between the other two not only in terms of age, but also when it comes to job search preferences.
Compared to the average job seeker on our Australian website, Generation Xers, like millennials, show above average levels of interest in office administration roles. Meanwhile, boomers show similarly higher levels of interest in construction and extraction jobs.
Generation X jobseekers, however, also tend to be interested in a handful of roles that are either ignored altogether or do not receive as much interest by the other two generations, with the best example being those in the computer and mathematical, management, business and finance fields.
Paths to the future
Automation and technological progress are going to impact different occupations at different times. While each generation’s interest is still almost equally split between routine and non-routine jobs, specific occupations are attracting different levels of interest from different generations and it is not unlikely that millennials may feel the effects of automation at a different time than Gen Xers or Boomers.
Disappearing jobs can be a frightening concept, but building up transferable, non-routine skills that are used in a wide array of occupations and are often a complement – rather than a substitute – to technology, can be an effective strategy for workers and jobseekers who are looking to make their careers “future-proof”.
This analysis is based on six months of Indeed job seeker activity, from September 2016 to March 2017. Job seeker interest is measured as the volume of clicks to job postings in each occupation group as a share of clicks to all job postings. Indeed job postings are organized into their relevant US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) category. The SOCs are then grouped in the following categories based on their primary job functions: non-routine cognitive, non-routine manual, routine cognitive, and routine manual, as has been done in previous research. Job seeker age is estimated based on resume characteristics and categorized into the relevant generation, using Pew Research Center definitions: millennials (ages 20-36 in 2017), Generation Xers (ages 37-52 in 2017) and baby boomers (ages 53-71 in 2017).