Real Estate and The Future of Employment

You don’t have to be an economist to see that jobs that were once done by human beings are being rapidly replaced by technology. This replacement of human beings in the labor force has been on the rise since the industrial revolution. Philosophers, economists, demographers and social scientists have debated how this will impact lower skilled workers for at least the past 80 years.

In a 2013 study, Oxford professors Frey and Osborne studied 702 professions in the U.S. economy to see how many would be susceptible to what they classified as “computerisation.” Their definition of computerisation (or computerization for all of you North Americans) is the increasing prevalence of Machine Learning and Mobile Robotics. These technologies, they argue, are replacing jobs that once only human beings could do. What’s fascinating about their study is that it is not limited to “low skill workers.” Instead, it reveals that even higher skill professions need be on the lookout for replacement of their once irreplaceable skills.

So how do real estate agents stack up? While the study does not call out real estate agents by name, there are some great insights into how agents will need to evolve in order to avoid the fate of computerization.

The study breaks down the dispensability of professions (my term) into three skill-attribute categories: Social Intelligence, Creativity and Perception/Manipulation. Every profession can be ranked along a spectrum of high to low for each of these three categories.

For example, on the low side of the social intelligence spectrum, you would place the profession of someone who washed dishes to earn their way through school. It requires low social interaction, few social variables to worry about and thus very easily replaced by a robot. In the middle of this spectrum you might have an event planner who will require far more interaction with people and a deeper understanding of social behavior. A decent planner is tough to replace with a computer program, though much could be automated and where a once larger team was once needed to plan an event, fewer people are needed today. On the highest end of the spectrum you might place a public relations officer for a political campaign who has to balance the myriad number and variety of requests for a candidate’s thoughts on issues, clarification of these opinions, relationships with the press, etc. This is a profession that requires the utmost social intelligence and which would crash and burn in computerized hands.

The question for any profession, then, is how much does what I do resemble washing dishes and how much does it resemble more irreplaceable activities. If you had a person record your activity today, how many hours of tough-to-automate highly valuable activities would they find?


Do you want to be irreplaceable? Using the three spectrums from the Oxford study, here’s an exercise that will allow you to gauge the indispensability of your Marketing and Lead Generation efforts. A printable pdf version is available here. 


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