Photo by Tiago De Oliveira

With the advancement of technology, machinery is becoming more sophisticated. Robots and computers are getting better at doing their jobs, and soon, our jobs.

Recent studies from institutions ranging from PricewaterhouseCoopers to the University of Toronto all say automation may lead up to 40 per cent of Canadian jobs being gone within the next 15 years. People in susceptible fields are not only at risk of becoming unemployed, but unemployable.

Many college students, even here at Durham College, may be training for jobs that do not even exist when they enter the workforce.

Marianne Marando, the executive dean of the School of Business, IT & Management at Durham College, said the Canadian economy will change with the advent of robotic and computer automation, but Durham College is making efforts to plan for incoming trends in the workplace.

“We always factor economic trends into our planning. Advanced manufacturing is something we have our eye on,” she said. “I believe the jobs won’t be lost, they will just be changed and transformed, so I think we need to prepare our students for different jobs, perhaps, but I still believe there will be jobs.”

She said the consumer, however, holds more power over the automation trend than they realize, and their potential preference for human interaction over robots may limit job loss due to automation.

Marando said the shift towards automation is in part due to the preference by many millennials to use a machine rather than speak to a person.

“People in my age group are more likely to prefer a human interaction. I have children in their 20s, and they would do anything not to talk to a human sometimes,” she said. “I think as that demographic works its way through the system they’re going to be much more comfortable and actually prefer some automated applications.”

A robot doesn’t need to be perfect to be employable, it only needs a lower margin of error than a human, according to experts. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey said approximately 94 per cent of road accidents result from human error. By comparison, Google tested self-driving cars and they drove for more than 700,000 miles without collision.

The Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineering said truck drivers and people who drive or transport for a living are at risk of being shifted out in favour of self-driving cars, which are programmed to obey rules of traffic, don’t get tired or sick, and will cost less than an employee because there are no unions or labour laws involved.

However, automation, as it advances, goes beyond replacing human hands in transportation, service, retail and manufacturing. Robots and sophisticated programs are poised to replace even doctors, lawyers, and journalists.

A 2004 study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto and University of Calgary suggests about 70,000 Canadian patients a year experience preventable, serious adverse effects because of treatments from their doctors. They concluded between 9,000 and 23,000 Canadians die annually from preventable error.

Despite perceptions some lawyers spend most of their time in court defending or prosecuting, many are in the office, grueling over paperwork – paperwork that can be easily automated.

Even journalists are at risk. The Associated Press, often held as the gold standard in journalism, has recently employed sophisticated computer software to write articles and stories – as many as 4,000 a year, and expected to grow. No job can be considered too “white collar” to be safe from automation.

Colin Cunningham, program coordinator of Mechanical Engineering Technician and Technology at Durham College and an expert on robotics, said it is up to people to pursue new avenues of employment and explore their potential.

He said the most important trait for people in this new economy will be adaptability, to be willing and able to switch careers or go back to school.

“It is sad. I’ve seen the changes, we’re losing a lot of jobs, but can we stop technology? Can we really?” he said. “I think we have to get past that fear…live with the fear, educate yourself more, and move on because you can’t stay there, can you?”