Working in a declining field: Is moving abroad the right solution?

  • at risk jobs
Published on 2024-02-19 at 14:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Artificial Intelligence (AI), particularly generative AI, continuously makes headlines. According to its developers, millions of jobs will disappear in the coming decades. But there are other professions unrelated to AI that are also disappearing. How can one consider moving abroad when working in a profession that is at risk?

Professions in competition with AI

Journalists, web editors, authors, translators, subtitlers, proofreaders, web developers, data scientists, data analysts, computer programmers, secretaries, taxi drivers, metro and bus drivers, accountants, librarians, graphic designers, traders, bricklayers, lawyers, legal assistants, teachers, architects, kitchen assistants, scriptwriters, receptionists, account managers, call center agents, sports coaches, psychiatrists, bank and insurance brokers, plumbers, etc.

This is just one of the lists of professions threatened by AI or due to AI, among many others (depending on your point of view). In April 2023, a study by investment bank Goldman Sachs estimated that traditional and generative AI would threaten 300 million jobs worldwide. Jobs are eliminated or profoundly changed by AI. While we often talk about jobs related to data collection and processing or language, it was believed that manual jobs were spared. But that was without taking into account recent technical advances. The success of 3D printers and wall-building robots is changing all that. Hadrian X, the bricklaying robot from FBR, an Australian construction robotics company, is capable of building walls faster than humans while producing less waste. Could this solve the labor shortage issue in the construction industry? What about the programs undertaken by governments to recruit more foreign workers in these sectors?

When AI redefines jobs

The development of generative AI in education or legal fields is astonishing. The same circumspection applies to the use of this type of AI in medicine. Machines to assist doctors already exist. But will we really go as far as consulting AI instead of a doctor? Many specialists point out that artificial intelligence has no critical faculties, which means that journalists, lawyers, architects, and psychiatrists still have a bright future ahead. The same optimism applies to manual professions. According to studies, digital professions and repetitive tasks are most threatened by AI.

What about artistic professions? The global controversy sparked by recent revelations of Japanese writer Rie Kudan, winner of the prestigious Akutagawa prize, has shaken the literary scene. The writer explained that approximately "5%" of her books have been generated by AI, and she hopes to continue exploring her creative potential thanks to it. Other writers, on the other hand, are concerned that a lack of transparency would tarnish the entire profession. Some have sued the start-up OpenAI for copyright infringement, accusing it of training its AIs with writers' books. Photographers, illustrators, musicians, and other professionals in the artistic world are divided between concern, resilience, and interest in these artificial intelligences that are still evolving.

Other professions at risk of disappearing

The sudden arrival of AI almost makes us forget that other unrelated professions, such as artisanal professions, are on the verge of disappearing. Demand is not keeping up with supply. Professionals can't find young people to train, let alone people to take over. For example, artisanal saddlery deals with everything that makes up a horse's ornament. The designs are embroidered, a mark of ancestral know-how. Artisanal saddlery involves several trades: copperwork, brocade, woodwork, etc.

There are other threatened professions, mainly in the craft industry: mechanical arts (automaton and puppet makers, etc.), graphic arts (paper makers, bookbinders, print, drawing and painting restorers, parchment makers, etc.). Some construction trades, such as slate roofing, thatching, bricklaying, or parquet layering, are also at risk, as are some traditional trades in stone, glass, wood, textiles, and metal. There are not as many glassblowers as there used to be. The golden age of wigmakers is long gone. The business survives mainly thanks to the theatre industry and the stage trades, but opportunities remain scarce. Blacksmiths, embroiderers, mother-of-pearl workers, stone engravers, potters, traditional masseurs, and hat makers also tend to disappear.

Causes of the decline of craftsmanship and traditional trades

All these activities share common points: technological developments (industrial development, machinery, automation, etc.) have changed production processes. In the construction industry, for example, roofs are no longer generally made of thatch or slate. Traditional constructions remain but cannot be compared to other standardized constructions. The demand for craftsmanship is decreasing; they are considered too expensive and less profitable than mass production. Production and consumption patterns have changed. These trades, which were once very popular, are no longer attractive.

In South Korea, the female divers of Jeju Island have become very popular. The "Haenyos", the women of the sea, have contributed significantly to the island's economy through their underwater fishing activities, without equipment, which is as spectacular as dangerous. In 1950, there were 30,000 Haenyos on the island. Today, there are barely 5,000, most of whom are in their sixties. The inclusion of the profession in UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (in 2016) is unlikely to prevent its disappearance. Fishing, once Jeju's main economic driver, has been surpassed by tourism. The profession no longer attracts young people, and the Haenyos themselves acknowledge its difficulty. Moreover, it isn't easy to make a living from it.

It is equally challenging to train young people in professions that are disappearing. Yet, the preservation of ancestral know-how is at stake. Some die-hards manage to preserve their art and even make a living from it, but they are rare. They can be found mainly in high-end industries. (watchmaking, leather goods, fashion, etc.).

Moving abroad with a low-demand job: What should you consider?

Regarding AI, companies will continue to recruit, and governments will maintain their plans to attract foreign talent, including in sectors where AI is emerging. The United States, Canada, Germany, and Japan still lack qualified information and communication technologies (ICT) professionals. Even shaken by waves of record layoffs (over 6,000 layoffs in 2023), the video game industry continues to rely on foreign illustrators, graphic designers, programmers, animators, and scriptwriters. Scientists also argue that while AI destroys jobs, it also creates new ones.

Regarding traditional occupations, you should definitely evaluate your chances of succeeding in your country. Find out whether it is possible to adapt to new market constraints (consumption patterns, potential clients, etc.). For example, is it possible to 'modernize' the craft industry? Do we want to keep the ancestral way of producing, or do we want to adapt the traditional know-how to current tastes? Watchmaking, long threatened, is once again on the rise, thanks to the luxury sector. The profession is now qualified as art. Of course, Switzerland comes to mind first, but Japan and France are two other "watch-producing countries". If you want to move abroad, you must look at the opportunities in the chosen country.

The importance of a market assessment before the move

If you are considering a move abroad with a job that is losing ground, you must first assess the labor market, the economic demand, and the host country's political strategy. Is the country experiencing economic growth or a slowdown? What is its immigration policy like? Is there a job shortage list? Learning about these occupations will help you position yourself better in the market. For example, countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Germany, Japan, South Africa, and Canada regularly publish and update their skills shortage lists.

The lists of occupations that tend to disappear, especially in the digital field, should also be put into perspective. The example of the video game industry is reminiscent of the wave of layoffs in the Tech industry that has been prevalent since 2021. However, the industry is still recruiting. According to the recruitment firm Robert Half, 88% of business leaders in France alone are looking to hire skilled foreign workers in the Tech industry this year. These companies are concerned about finding qualified professionals locally. Governments remain in fierce competition for foreign talent. The UK is opening its borders to qualified and highly skilled profiles. The same goes for Germany, Japan, South Korea, Canada, and the United States, which are also competing to attract the "best" international students.

Training opportunities and career prospects should also be considered. Is it a long-term move? Do your qualifications allow you to occupy the position in your host country (paying attention to the recognition of diplomas)? Answering these questions while weighing your motivations will enable you to consider your move better.