12 Jobs on the Brink: Will They Evolve or Go Extinct?

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: June 27, 2014

Once upon a time good employees updated their job skills and advanced to the next career level with the regularity of Mario questing for Princess Peach.

But then technology proliferated, and the well-read encyclopedia salesman, savvy VCR repairman and worldly travel agent either faded away or morphed into updated versions of their former selves.

Are you prepared for an evolving work environment or, worse, job extinction? Don't be the Cro Magnon who creates trendy CD artwork in an MP3 world.

Check out these jobs on the brink and remember,clever and creative are transferable skills -- if you're adaptable and ready for the next big thing.


Librarian: Shelved or renewed?

Glamour girl Google and her friends Bing, Yahoo and Cha Cha dethroned the trusty silencer of the stacks, our public librarian.

Now, the local library is online, shoes and shirts are no longer required and we can use our "outdoor voice" indoors if we are so inspired. Will the decibel diva's future be shelved?

Verdict: Evolved. Although virtual media and the Internet search deleted the Dewey decimal system, people still enjoy reading books the old-fashioned way and appreciate research help. The new librarian is a digital archivist, savvy with searches, keywords and helpful websites.

Professional typist: Alt, ctrl, deleted?

Words per minute used to mean something when errors required a tedious application of white-out. But word processing on virtual paper has removed the wow factor of typing perfection.

Professional typists lost out to the backspace key. And also to spell check, which can rack up artificial IQ points as easily as a good video game cheat code. 

Verdict: Evolving. Since even "hunt and peck" keyboarders can tap out an email, top typists need additional software proficiencies to keep a spot at the keyboard.


Video store clerk: Don't bother returning?

Video store clerks usually knew the quirky art house film your friend recommended that had a foreign word in the title and starred the guy with the spiky hair. (And they’d find it, too, if they weren't busy whispering into their cell phone behind the counter or inventorying microwave popcorn in the back.) 

With live streaming movies on the web and mailbox deliveries, however, video stores -- and clerks -- are edging into relic status.

Verdict: Extinct. No more just-before-midnight returns to avoid late fees. And, alas, no job security for the guy who could name every species inhabiting the Star Wars galaxy.

Umps and refs: Earning their stripes?

Umpires, line judges and referees face more than heckling wannabes in the stands these days since instant replay technology lets us judge the judges.

While traditionalists view such use of video as more controversial than an ump's "make-up" call, there's no denying the consistency of calls provided by good camera work.

Verdict: Evolved. These quick and eagle-eyed moderators of fair play will continue to stay in the game, as both judges and reviewers of instant replays. Hey Ump! We vote you add the stands to your jurisdiction and tell that foul-mouthed fan with the painted beer belly, "You're outta here!"

The iceman: Chipped away?

Before Mr. Edison came along, nothing happened when you pressed that button for ice on your Frigidaire. People had to rely on an iceman to deliver blocks of ice directly to their homes. Then they stored this ice in the (ready?) icebox to preserve their perishables, and no one's arugula wilted in the heat of summer.  

Then one day someone's proud mom needed a magnetic surface for her children's school papers and artwork, and the refrigerator was invented. 

Verdict: Extinct. Kudos to those who parlayed their ice skills to swan sculpting and Zamboni driving. Otherwise, this once hot business is ice cold.

Travel agents: A few reservations

Travel used to be two steps: Call a travel agent, then pack. Travelers’ biggest concerns involved dodging the in-laws intent on a family vacation, and squeezing into last season's bathing suits.

But with booking and travel details accessible online now, almost anyone can research destinations, make reservations and be their own agent. And just wish they had a travel agent when the hotel is overbooked and that tropical depression gets seriously angry.

Verdict: Evolving. Surviving agencies live in a niche. Secure your career by specializing in adventure/foreign travel or special event packages.

Newspaper deliverer: Tossed to the curb?

A newspaper route was once a pre-dawn suburban rite of passage, but then the digital age dawned.

No more homeowners climbing ladders to retrieve yesterday's news from the gutter or drying out the sports section across the family room floor.

Verdict: Extinct. Newspapers are but a click away on our computers, making the accuracy of the neighbor boy or girl's aim less impactful to our understanding of world events (and our choice of bathrobe or boxers of less interest to our neighbors).

The truly enterprising paperboy has put his door-to-door skills to work building a lawn mowing empire.

The family farm: Out to pasture?

Automation and corporate conglomerates have plowed under many family farms, leaving malls and shopping plazas in their wake.

Fortunately, there are health-conscious proponents of local produce. Savvy landowners have added organic farm markets and seasonal attractions such as pumpkin patches and Christmas trees. Some even offer paying guests a sleep-in-the-barn experience with opportunities to do farm chores. (File that one under the Tom Sawyer "paint my fence" business model.)

Verdict: Evolved. But carrying on the family farm will require more business sense than horse sense.

Switchboard operator: The end of the line?

The voice prompting us to push buttons and recite the "last four" of our "Social" used to be a live person sensitive to our manners.

Voice recognition has made the phone operator nonessential and probably happier in some alternate universe where "please" and "thank you" are as common as YouTube videos.

Verdict: Extinct. Some of us still speak kindly to the automated voice, in case an actual operator or our mother overhears us. But many of us just repeatedly punch "0" for Customer Service in hopes of venting to a real human once again.

Supermarket cashier: Checked out?

E-commerce and self-checkout have eased our need for cashiers. Turns out we can crush our own bread and break the eggs at roughly the same rate and with less of a wait.

"Ten items or less" lives, but scanners never smirk at your choice of domestic beer or bargain toilet paper. And you'll still get that human touch when the scanner misfires and you're forced to signal for the single harried clerk who's helping a coupon queen use self-checkout for the very first time.

Verdict: Evolving. Customers do more of the labor. Clerks monitor and facilitate. Good customer skills are your human edge over the machine.

Postal worker: Pump up the volume

Will email filter out the U.S. postal service? With so much of our communication, shopping, bill-paying and even banking taking place online these days, it seems like paper mail may soon be as quaint as ice and milk truck deliveries.

Verdict: Evolved. Although traditional letterboxes may show up as planters in antique shops (next to the butter churns), the rise of eCommerce has increased business shipping needs, and faxing hard goods is still the stuff of science fiction, so a responsive U.S.P.S. has refocused their efforts on package deliveries.

Advice to postal workers: Bulk up those biceps.

On-air DJ: Jockeying for position

Podcasting, web and satellite radio, and syndicated programming have forever changed your local radio station.

Yeah, you can still be the 12th caller and talk to a live DJ, but these endangered creatures may be running out of air.

Verdict: Evolving. The airwaves are being replaced by "web waves" and satellite signals. Disc jockeys who can see past terrestrial radio and bring their communication skills into the future stand a good chance of keeping their voices heard, the songs playing -- and our teenagers' music choices driving us crazy.

Stayed employed: Join the evolution

A stubborn ignorance of the technical didn't do in the dinosaur, but keeping pace with an evolving work environment is certainly your best bet against job extinction.

Watch big picture trends, update your skills and direction as necessary, and get personal. Specialized service may become the new luxury item as society does its cyclical swing (but learning VCR repair should not be on your bucket list).

An overload of "DIY" and virtual everything may lead consumers to value skilled laborers as the new "big thing." Just remember that quality work is always in style and value will never be obsolete.

Know What You're Worth

Whether your job is on the verge of extinction or you're in an up-and coming field, the important thing is you're being paid fairly. So regardless of whether you're asking for a raise or switching careers, Salary.com can help.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.