Science-fiction films like The Terminator play on our greatest fears about the digital age by offering us a bleak vision of the future, where robots have gained enough intelligence to overthrow humans and take over the world. While there is no indication that anything so extreme is going to happen in our lifetime, developments in digital technology are certainly happening at a rapid pace. As well as being able to perform routine, repetitive activities, robots are also now being developed with the ability to perform more complex tasks, putting more and more employees at risk of being replaced by robots in the next few decades. In fact, the latest research by Oxford University predicts that 35% of existing UK jobs are at risk of automation in the next 20 years. So, in an increasingly automated world, what industries offer a really future-proof career? According to the new report by researchers Michael Osborne and Carl Frey, the plumbing and heating industry is a trade with great longevity where human skill will always be in demand.
In their report “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation?”, Osborne and Frey discuss the huge impact technology is likely to have on employment possibilities across many industries in the future, arguing that advancements in technology are allowing for the computerisation of more complex tasks than were ever previously thought possible. In order to determine the extent to which certain jobs are at risk of being digitalised, the Oxford University scholars examined them in the light of nine key skills required for their performance; social perceptiveness, negotiation, persuasion, assisting and caring for others, originality, fine arts, finger dexterity and the need to work in a cramped space.
One essential attribute of plumbing and heating engineers is manual dexterity, for example, being able to hold an arm or hand steady when supporting a piece of pipe, the ability to use fingers to manipulate small objects and being able to coordinate the movements of both hands. One of the report's most important findings was that manual dexterity is one of three key characteristics protecting jobs from automation, with low-skilled and low-wage jobs found to be most at risk. What's more, the fact that plumbers are also sometimes required to work in a prone position or cramped spaces, something hard to emulate with machinery, puts them even further ahead of robots in the war of the workplace.
So if you're a school-leaver thinking about that next step or even just someone considering a change of career, remember that a job in the plumbing and heating industry isn't just a rewarding trade day-to-day but will offer great job security for the years to come.