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November jobs report: Automation is changing industries, but workers don't need to panic

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Concerned about your job security? Economists say that now is the time to prepare for a change.

Data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the number of jobs added in November came in below expectations, at 155,000, but the overall economy is still in good standing for anyone looking to make a career change.

Currently, unemployment remains at 3.7 percent, which is a 49-year low. Average hourly earnings increased by 6 cents to $27.35, keeping year-over-year wage growth unchanged at 3.1 percent.

Despite a slight slow-down in November hiring, Bankrate.com senior economic analysts Mark Hamrick says workers should view these slight shifts as evidence of the changes some industries are enduring as they adjust to new innovations and automation.

"We need to recognize that change is accelerating throughout the economy and workforce," Bankrate.com senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick tells CNBC Make It. "That means that learning is no longer something that is optional, and we have to continue to innovate in our jobs."

CNBC Make It spoke with Hamrick and Becky Frankiewicz, North American president of ManpowerGroup, about what job seekers who feel like their occupation is on the line can do to be prepared.

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Reject denial

If you're working in an industry where major shifts are happening, Hamrick says the worst thing you can do is turn a blind eye.

"Sometimes, I think people manage their careers like they sometimes manage their health," he says, "and that means they are all too well in a state of denial." Those lingering in this state, Hamrick says, "are failing themselves."

Hamrick points to the auto industry as an example. Recently, General Motors made headline news for its plans to cut more than 14,000 jobs next year. While the news is unfortunate, Hamrick says these cuts are not a reflection of the business failing, but a reflection of the industry changing.

"It will be a mistake to say that the layoffs at GM are reflective of an economic downturn," he says, "because they are rather a combination of trying to adjust to the business environment as well as anticipating innovation."

He says retail is also experiencing a major shift. While Amazon has benefited from the rise of e-commerce and is making plans to hire thousands of new workers, Sears is feeling the downsides of the industry's changes as a result of being too slow to innovate.

If future job security is a big factor in your search, Hamrick says you should consider employment in industries like transportation and warehousing, healthcare services, business services and manufacturing. Each of these sectors, according to the BLS, added at least 20,000 new jobs to the economy in November.

Man talking at business meeting in modern conference room
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Man talking at business meeting in modern conference room

Play up your soft skills

Right now, telephone operators, computer operators and typists are some of the jobs expected to disappear most rapidly within the next few years, due to automation. While the idea of losing your job may sound scary, Frankiewicz says that professionals today have nothing to worry about — there are plenty of opportunities to find new employment.

In a survey of more than 20,000 employers in 42 countries, ManpowerGroup found that 86 percent plan to maintain or increase headcount as they move forward with automation. "We are seeing new jobs created to partner with automation jobs," says Frankiewicz, emphasizing that certain human skills are impossible to replace.

According to ManpowerGroup data, 60 percent of employers say that good verbal and written communication skills are both the most important and the most challenging trait to find in a new candidate.

"Right now, we are seeing the intersection of high-tech and high-touch," says Frankiewicz. "We are seeing an increased demand for customer service around communication."

If you feel like you're in a job that could be replaced by automation, Frankiewicz says now is the perfect time to update your resume and "highlight your soft skills and technical skills, really early on."

Read more here about some of the top jobs that will likely disappear by 2026

10 years ago this month

Let's compare the job market to 10 years ago. In November 2008, there were 533,000 jobs lost, according to CNNMoney.

That was the largest monthly job loss since December 1974, and it brought the year's total job shedding to 1.9 million. During that month, the unemployment rate stood at 6.7 percent, nearly double today's number.

During a congressional hearing, CNNMoney reported Keith Hall, then commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, referring to the jobs report as one of the worst reports that the BLS had ever produced. "There's very little in this report that's positive," he said at the time.

By contrast, Hamrick says today's report is "far from the Grinch-Who-Stole-Christmas" and that now remains a "good time for workers to be looking for work."

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