In 2015, the McKinsey Global Institute launched a multi-year study to explore the potential impact of automation technologies on jobs, organizations and the future of work. In the intervening three years, the study has published a number of report on the subject.
The first report, published in November, 2015, explored whether we can look forward to vast improvements in productivity and quality of life, or whether automation will mostly threaten jobs, disrupt organizations, and strain the social fabric. Based on an analysis of around 2,000 work activities across 800 different occupations, the report concluded that “fewer than 5 percent of occupations can be entirely automated using current technology. However, about 60 percent of occupations could have 30 percent or more of their constituent activities automated.” In other words, relatively few jobs will be entirely automated, but automation will likely transform the vast majority of occupations.
McKinsey’s December, 2017 report analyzed whether there will be enough work in the future. The overall conclusion was that a growing technology-based economy will create a significant number of new occupations, - as has been the case in the past, - which will more than offset declines in occupations displaced by automation. However, “while there may be enough work to maintain full employment to 2030 under most scenarios, the transitions will be very challenging - matching or even exceeding the scale of shifts out of agriculture and manufacturing we have seen in the past.”
Let me now discuss the more recent report published earlier this year, which examined the changes in skills required of human workers over the next 10-15 years. To do so, the study analyzed how the total number of hours worked in 25 different skill areas has changed between 2002 and 2016 and estimated the expected change in hours worked by 2030. This was done for the US and 5 Western European countries. I’ll focus my discussion on the US skill changes, as the European changes were similar.