Robot-Proof Jobs

Globalization and trade have transformed the American economy. But increasingly, the competition for jobs comes from inside our own borders, with automation, robots and artificial intelligence rapidly moving into the workforce. What can we expect and what can we do about it? Join us in our search for robot-proof jobs.

Automation At Work

The McKinsey Global Institute analyzed the work activities of more than 800 occupations in the U.S. to determine what percentage of a job could be automated using current technology. It turns out, a small fraction of jobs are either entirely automatable or entirely robot-proof.

0% Automatable

  • Ambulance Drivers and Attendants, Except Emergency Medical Technicians
  • Animal Scientists
  • Animal Trainers
  • Astronomers
  • Athletes and Sports Competitors
  • Clergy
  • Dancers
  • Directors, Religious Activities and Education
  • Historians
  • Mathematical Technicians
  • Models
  • Music Directors and Composers
  • Religious Workers, All Other
  • Roof Bolters, Mining

100% Automatable

  • Aircraft Cargo Handling Supervisors
  • Dredge Operators
  • Foundry Mold and Coremakers
  • Graders and Sorters, Agricultural Products
  • Logging Equipment Operators
  • Machine Feeders and Offbearers
  • Medical Appliance Technicians
  • Motion Picture Projectionists
  • Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians
  • Packaging and Filling Machine Operators and Tenders
  • Plasterers and Stucco Masons
  • Slaughterers and Meat Packers

The vast majority of jobs consist of some portion of tasks that can be automated and some portion of tasks that can’t. Think you know which jobs are most susceptible to automation?
Take our quiz below and find out.

Which of these three jobs is most automatable?

Make a selection

Correct Answer: Real Estate Broker

Pay doesn’t directly correspond to automatability. Plenty of lower-paid jobs, like tree pruning, which requires physical dexterity and maneuvering in unstructured environments, cannot be easily or cheaply replaced by machines.

Which of these three major occupations is most automatable?

Make a selection

Correct Answer: Waiter

Some of the biggest job categories in America — clerks, drivers and food service workers — are highly automatable. Jobs that require interpersonal skills, like nursing and teaching, tend be to less so.

  • Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, Including Fast Food

    86.7% Automatable

    3,022,890 U.S. Workers

    $9.45 per hour

  • Stock Clerks and Order Fillers

    86.4% Automatable

    1,800,430 U.S. Workers

    $13.00 per hour

  • Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks

    85.6% Automatable

    1,586,390 U.S. Workers

    $17.57 per hour

  • Cooks, Restaurant

    84.0% Automatable

    1,057,540 U.S. Workers

    $11.02 per hour

  • Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers

    81.4% Automatable

    1,585,310 U.S. Workers

    $19.31 per hour

  • Waiters and Waitresses

    76.9% Automatable

    2,403,940 U.S. Workers

    $9.95 per hour

  • Office Clerks, General

    61.5% Automatable

    2,832,020 U.S. Workers

    $14.37 per hour

  • Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Except Legal, Medical, and Executive

    53.6% Automatable

    2,159,010 U.S. Workers

    $15.91 per hour

  • Cashiers

    48.6% Automatable

    3,343,380 U.S. Workers

    $10.14 per hour

  • Retail Salespersons

    46.8% Automatable

    4,485,080 U.S. Workers

    $12.70 per hour

  • Nursing Assistants

    44.2% Automatable

    1,427,730 U.S. Workers

    $12.33 per hour

  • Security Guards

    39.4% Automatable

    1,066,730 U.S. Workers

    $13.92 per hour

  • First-Line Supervisors of Retail Sales Workers

    32.7% Automatable

    1,213,530 U.S. Workers

    $20.08 per hour

  • Customer Service Representatives

    29.3% Automatable

    2,389,590 U.S. Workers

    $15.88 per hour

  • Registered Nurses

    28.9% Automatable

    2,661,850 U.S. Workers

    $30.98 per hour

  • Maintenance and Repair Workers, General

    25.2% Automatable

    1,249,080 U.S. Workers

    $18.25 per hour

  • Personal Care Aides

    23.6% Automatable

    1,134,940 U.S. Workers

    $10.26 per hour

  • General and Operations Managers

    22.8% Automatable

    1,973,700 U.S. Workers

    $51.45 per hour

  • Janitors and Cleaners, Except Maids and Housekeeping Cleaners

    22.4% Automatable

    2,101,820 U.S. Workers

    $12.10 per hour

  • First-Line Supervisors of Office and Administrative Support Workers

    22.1% Automatable

    1,366,530 U.S. Workers

    $24.94 per hour

  • Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Except Technical and Scientific Products

    21.1% Automatable

    1,403,200 U.S. Workers

    $29.40 per hour

  • Teacher Assistants

    19.9% Automatable

    1,190,630 U.S. Workers

    $11.88 per hour

  • Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education

    15.4% Automatable

    1,344,080 U.S. Workers

    $25.55 per hour

  • Accountants and Auditors

    12.2% Automatable

    1,168,320 U.S. Workers

    $32.24 per hour

  • Laborers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers, Hand


    2,284,660 U.S. Workers

    $13.21 per hour

Which of these three high-growth jobs is most automatable?

Make a selection

Correct Answer: Web Developer

Not all high-growth or high-tech jobs require human know-how. Repetitive work done by web developers or technicians can be done efficiently and inexpensively by computers.

  • Phlebotomists

    89.40% Automatable

    108,060 U.S. Workers

    24.9% projected growth (2014)

    $14.67 per hour

  • Medical Secretaries

    57.48% Automatable

    512,560 U.S. Workers

    20.5% projected growth (2014)

    $15.36 per hour

  • Medical Assistants

    54.36% Automatable

    571,640 U.S. Workers

    23.5% projected growth (2014)

    $14.47 per hour

  • Health Technologists and Technicians, All Other

    52.89% Automatable

    88,910 U.S. Workers

    23.1% projected growth (2014)

    $21.57 per hour

  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

    48.06% Automatable

    57,710 U.S. Workers

    26.4% projected growth (2014)

    $31.94 per hour

  • Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians

    45.33% Automatable

    50,970 U.S. Workers

    22.2% projected growth (2014)

    $26.23 per hour

  • Web Developers

    42.58% Automatable

    112,810 U.S. Workers

    26.6% projected growth (2014)

    $29.19 per hour

  • Speech-Language Pathologists

    40.44% Automatable

    125,050 U.S. Workers

    21.3% projected growth (2014)

    $34.41 per hour

  • Physical Therapist Assistants

    37.11% Automatable

    72,540 U.S. Workers

    40.6% projected growth (2014)

    $25.43 per hour

  • Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics

    35.48% Automatable

    237,520 U.S. Workers

    24.2% projected growth (2014)

    $16.42 per hour

  • Physical Therapists

    31.84% Automatable

    195,580 U.S. Workers

    34% projected growth (2014)

    $39.58 per hour

  • Computer Systems Analysts

    29.19% Automatable

    507,120 U.S. Workers

    20.9% projected growth (2014)

    $37.66 per hour

  • Physician Assistants

    26.78% Automatable

    88,020 U.S. Workers

    30.4% projected growth (2014)

    $46.40 per hour

  • Mental Health Counselors

    26.13% Automatable

    115,560 U.S. Workers

    19.6% projected growth (2014)

    $21.29 per hour

  • Occupational Therapists

    25.20% Automatable

    108,390 U.S. Workers

    26.5% projected growth (2014)

    $37.37 per hour

  • Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors

    25.01% Automatable

    83,100 U.S. Workers

    22.3% projected growth (2014)

    $20.09 per hour

  • Personal Care Aides

    23.60% Automatable

    1,134,940 U.S. Workers

    25.9% projected growth (2014)

    $10.26 per hour

  • Nurse Practitioners

    21.11% Automatable

    113,280 U.S. Workers

    35.2% projected growth (2014)

    $45.84 per hour

  • Opticians, Dispensing

    15.74% Automatable

    68,360 U.S. Workers

    23.7% projected growth (2014)

    $16.73 per hour

  • Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

    11.75% Automatable

    104,460 U.S. Workers

    19.6% projected growth (2014)

    $33.59 per hour

  • Personal Financial Advisors

    12.30% Automatable

    182,330 U.S. Workers

    29.6% projected growth (2014)

    $44.69 per hour

  • Healthcare Social Workers

    11.15% Automatable

    141,580 U.S. Workers

    19.3% projected growth (2014)

    $24.57 per hour

  • Home Health Aides

    10.78% Automatable

    802,860 U.S. Workers

    38.1% projected growth (2014)

    $10.92 per hour

  • Massage Therapists

    9.49% Automatable

    75,800 U.S. Workers

    21.6% projected growth (2014)

    $19.79 per hour

  • Operations Research Analysts

    3.48% Automatable

    72,670 U.S. Workers

    30.2% projected growth (2014)

    $37.34 per hour

  • Chart 1 represents all U.S. occupations, as captured in the McKinsey Global Institute’s automation report.
  • Chart 2 represents the top 25 largest U.S. occupations as measured by total employees.
  • Chart 3 represents the top 25 fastest-growing U.S. occupations as measured by percentage growth, excluding occupations with less than 50,000 people employed.

Behind the Numbers

A robot has just moved into the cubicle next to you, and you’re wondering whether it will soon take your place. Experts say humans are better at jobs that require empathy, creativity or physical dexterity than our robot competitors. For instance, in the graphs above, empathetic nurses, creative CEOs and dextrous tree pruners are all on the low end when it comes to automatability, as measured by McKinsey. These core characteristics may determine how resistant a job is to automation more than pay, industry sector or skill level.

Are you the radiologist or the taxi driver?

Automatability is just a number. While it's useful to know how much of your job could be done by machines, it may be more useful to understand what piece of your job is robotizable. Is it the part that takes skill or the part that is rote?

For example, radiology and taxi driving — two jobs transformed by technology. Computers are starting to read medical images just as well as radiologists. But radiologists add value in other ways machines can’t: by communicating with patients and integrating medical information into diagnoses and treatment plans. This leaves radiologists with a skilled portion of work that cannot be automated, giving them a better shot at keeping their exclusive high-paying jobs.

On the other hand, we have the taxi driver whose job consists of two basic parts: navigating and driving. Years ago, taxi drivers had to study and memorize entire city maps, a specialized skill that allowed only the qualified few to make money. With the advent of GPS and smartphone apps, the navigation aspect has gone digital, allowing more people to become drivers, and in turn, drive down wages. Contrast that with the other piece of their job — pushing the gas pedal, hitting the brakes and turning the wheel — which doesn’t take much expertise. Most anyone can drive — hey, even computers are learning.

And then there’s demand

Let’s go back to our radiologist. One might assume new imaging machines will mean fewer radiologists, because a single radiologist can get more work done assisted by technology. This is where demand comes in. As technology allows radiology services to become faster and cheaper, more people might be able to access and pay for them. In other words, the demand for radiologists could go up and offset any lost work brought on by technology.

A similar demand dynamic took place with bank tellers from the 1970s to the early 2000s. ATMs became widespread, which could have spelled trouble for human bank tellers. Instead, the number of tellers grew. Because of ATMs, banks could afford to open new branches staffed by fewer tellers. But overall, more tellers were hired to serve more customers at more locations. If demand had stayed flat however, the ranks of bank tellers would have declined.

Of course there are other factors that determine whether a human or machine will be hired for the job. One is relative cost, meaning how much the boss has to pay a human versus a machine to get the work done. Even if a robot can feasibly do a task, it still has to make economic sense to install and use it. Another is social acceptability — whether society is willing to automate a job. For example, it may be a long time before we are comfortable with robo-judges, robo-legislators or robo-priests. Maybe. Maybe not.

The Road Trip

Part 1: Jobs that are safe today

Part 2: The winners of tomorrow

Part 3: Rewiring the future

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Economic theory happily acknowledges that technology eradicates lots of jobs. Take, for example, the 98 percent of all farming jobs that were annihilated by machines over the last two centuries. We are taught that’s OK, because technology created more productive, higher-paying, less back-breaking and more interesting jobs. The farm workers got better work in factories and American standards of living went up. That’s the classic promise of technology, but does it hold up today?

Armed with this question and data from McKinsey, Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio and producer Katie Long drove across the Midwest — a region that has seen waves of competition from both globalization and automation — to search for jobs that technology can’t easily replace. They found a cop who says you’re better off getting pulled over by him than a robot, a composer who gets inspiration from a sofa and a woman who makes her living by continually evolving.

Along the way, they looked at how to train people for these robot-proof jobs in the near term. Plus, what happens in the long term when technological advancement goes from incremental to radical, putting most of us out of work?

Click on the player above to hear their journey or scroll through the photos below to meet the voices from their reporting.