TWIN FALLS — The robots haven't taken over — yet.
Technology has already impacted Idaho’s work force, changing how jobs are done throughout industries. The state may be a long way out from life as portrayed on "The Jetsons," but one study projects that many jobs are at high risk of becoming mostly automated in the next 10 to 20 years.
Automation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. Clear Springs Foods in Buhl has found that machines can help employees.
“It’s really made people’s jobs easier,” spokeswoman Cally Grindstaff said. “We’re really trying to inform people that manufacturing is way different than it used to be.”
Machines that de-bone trout and perform weight-bearing tasks have helped combat workplace injuries and conditions such as carpal tunnel, she said.
But, nearly half of all Idaho jobs — 46.5 percent — are highly susceptible to automation in the next 10 to 20 years, reports Craig Shaul, a research analyst supervisor for the Idaho Department of Labor.
So what jobs are more susceptible to automation?
“Those tasks where it takes a lot of man hours to do are the ones where people find machines to increase productivity, having increased quality and reducing error,” Shaul said.
Shaul applied data from a study to determine where automation will have the most effect in Idaho in the next 10 to 20 years. The figures are based on a 2013 Oxford report “The Future of Employment” by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne.
What jobs are safe? Basically “the occupations that require a higher degree of social intelligence, perception and manipulation and creativity,” Shaul said. Seventy-four percent of occupations in science, technology, engineering and math are at low risk.
And soft skills — things like interpersonal communication and problem-solving — are likely to become even more desirable for the future work force.
“If you’re not a people person, do what you can,” Shaul said.
Here’s a recap of the top most and least susceptible jobs in Idaho:
1. Computer, engineering and science
According to Shaul’s calculations based on statistics in the study, nearly 82 percent of these jobs have low risk of becoming automated.
“The computers can’t make themselves or write their own programs yet,” Shaul said.
2. Education, legal, community service, arts and media
About 74 percent of these jobs are at low risk, but 20 percent have a medium risk.
3. Management, business and financial
Nearly 69 percent of jobs in these categories are at low risk — but another 24 percent have high risk.
4. Healthcare practitioners and technical
Shaul notes that the percentage of low risk drops off rather quickly from the top of the list, and only 60 percent of these jobs are at low risk.
5. Construction and extraction
Although 19 percent of these jobs are at low risk, the majority — about 70 percent — have high risk.
1. Sales and related
More than 80 percent of jobs in these occupation categories will be at high risk for automation.
“There’s a lot more kiosks where you’re providing your own order entry,” Shaul noted.
Online sales also have the potential to change the retail work force.
“I don’t think you’ll see robotic sales associates, you’ll just see fewer people in the store than you do now,” he said.
Telemarketing systems are also being more automated, where artificial intelligence programs read a script back to the person on the other line.
About 78 percent of production jobs will be highly susceptible to automation, Shaul reported.
As with Clear Springs Foods, manufacturers throughout the state are already using machines in ways not seen before. Tech companies have developed robotic arms for packing and boxing up products — equipment that can cost about $25,000.
“That’s a low-wage, full-time employee,” Shaul explained about the benefit to employers.
But in many cases, the automation is creating the need for higher skilled, better-paying positions for people to run the equipment — such as threading and interfacing with labeling machines at the Clear Springs Foods processing plant. Director of Operations Kris Henna said packaging is an area where the company has expanded its automation in recent years.
"We used to have about 23 people working the packaging," he said. "Now we're down to about 12 people."
The machines are able to multitask and adapt to weights and box shapes quickly.
"You're always trying to reduce the number of handling steps in your process," Henna said.
New software, however, is the backbone of the system — one that Clear Springs is refining almost continuously.
3. Transportation and material moving
Shaul’s calculations put 75 percent of jobs in this category at high risk for automation in the next 10 to 20 years. This includes truck drivers.
But Idaho Trucking Association President and CEO Julie Pipal says it isn’t that simple. The association’s board of directors sees automation being applied here as with airline pilots — where a driver would still oversee everything in the vehicle and be able to interfere.
“We need professional drivers in those seats to ensure the safety of the public,” Pipal said.
Automation could improve driver safety with GPS navigation and auto-braking systems.
Idaho codes applying to commercial vehicles always mention “the driver,” Pipal said, so a complete overhaul of the law would be in order, she thinks, to legalize self-driving vehicles. Automation in the trucking industry won’t be an immediate fix for the shortage of drivers, she said.
4. Construction and extraction
Although this job also made the Top Five Least Susceptible list, there’s still about 70 percent of jobs that will be at risk. As methods change and pre-manufactured buildings increase in popularity, there’s also an economic pressure to use automation to supplement a small work force, Shaul said.
5. Office and administrative support
More than 68 percent of jobs in these fields are at high risk for automation. Positions that require a lot of data entry would be included in this list.
Editor's Note: This story was updated Dec. 30 with the correct spelling of Cally Grindstaff's name.