AI-proof jobs: best trades to retrain and future-proof your career

In the age of AI, it could be smart to retrain to a role that’s safe from AI takeover. We list the top highest-paid trades that are least at risk of being replaced by a robot rival.

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We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality.
Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has introduced many changes to the business world in the past year. Some have been positive, like the emergence of innovative AI startups. Others, like the risk of millions of workers losing their job to a robot, have been less so.

Computer-based careers, such as data analysis, bookkeeping, and administrative roles, are most susceptible to automation. Last month, IBM laid off thousands of marketing and comms roles after it predicted that 30% of its workforce could be automated by 2028.

Workers are making their own preparations. One option is to explore AI upskilling courses to fortify their CV. Another is to switch careers altogether. Below, we explain what jobs are safest from AI automation – and the 15 most lucrative roles to retrain to in 2024.

Top earning trades in 2024

Small business insurance provider, Simply Business, has released research into the highest-earning professions for sole traders.

These figures are based on average turnover, not profits. However, they still reflect an above-average income for a UK worker. The top earning trades are:

  1. Builder – £114,353
  2. Dryliner or plasterer – £105,832
  3. Groundworker – £105,434
  4. Glazier – £99,766
  5. Flooring contractor – £92, 386
  6. Plumber – £84,090
  7. Roofer – £81,517
  8. Joiner – £76,039
  9. Electrician£75,883
  10. Bathroom, bedroom, kitchen fitter – £71,562
  11. Landscape gardener£68,545
  12. Bricklayer – £67,465
  13. Gas fitter – £66,206
  14. Carpenter – £63,218
  15. Tiler (floor and wall) – £63,182

How to start a trades business

Forget piles of student debt. You don’t need to go back to business school to become a self-employed trade worker. Instead, the smartest method for retraining as a trady is to complete an apprenticeship.

These are salaried positions that provide on-the-job training. You’ll see how the business works from the inside, teaching you far more than you could learn in a classroom. Best of all, your training is entirely paid for by apprenticeship funding, so each course is 100% free.

Once you’ve qualified, and gathered a few years’ of experience, you’ll be able to set up a company using our guide on how to start a business; putting your skills to good use and reaping the financial rewards.

Here’s a quick rundown of the apprenticeship training course you’ll need to complete for the above 15 careers – and how long it usually takes to qualify:

RoleCourseTime to qualify
1. BuilderExtended diploma in construction & built environment (Level 3)16-24 months
2. Plasterer or drylinerPlasterer (Level 2)24 months
3. GroundworkerGroundworker (Level 2)18 months
4. GlazierFenestration installer (Level 2)18 months
5. Flooring contractorFloorlayer (Level 2)30 months
6. PlumberPlumbing and domestic heating technician (Level 3)48 months
7. RooferRoofer (Level 2)24 months
8. JoinerCarpentry and joinery (Level 2)24 months
9. ElectricianDomestic electrician (Level 3)36 months
10. Bathroom, bedroom, kitchen fitterFitted interiors installer (Level 2)18 months
11. Landscape gardenerHorticulture or landscape construction operative (Level 2)24 months
12. BricklayerCraft bricklayer (Level 3)18 months
13. Gas fitterEngineering fitter (Level 3)42 months
14. CarpenterCraft carpentry and joinery (Level 3)15 months
15. TilerWall and floor tiler (Level 2)30 months

What makes a job safe from AI?

You might be wondering: how can I know if my career is safe from AI? Both blue- and white-collar workers have faced redundancy due to automation, and the resultant AI anxiety has backed many into a corner. Many, that is, except those in skilled, manual labour roles.

Sparkies and other self-employed contractors are considered less susceptible to automation, as they require precise hand-eye coordination and can become dangerous without the appropriate level of expertise.

Robots currently lack the dexterity to handle the wide variety of tasks and environments that tradespeople encounter. Similarly, while AI excels at following algorithms, it may struggle to respond to on-the-spot situations that necessitate more creative thinking.

Some startups, like the wall-climbing painting robot manufacturer, Hausbots or the smart risk assessment tool, FYLD have begun working alongside tradespeople to help speed up their production and streamline operations.

That said, unlike at-risk industries like customer service, the relationship between trade jobs and machines will more likely be one of healthy peership than competition.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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