McKinsey & Company
Skill Shift: Automation and the Future of the Workforce
Skill shifts have accompanied the introduction of new technologies in the workplace since at least the Industrial Revolution, but adoption of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will mark an acceleration over the shifts of even the recent past. The need for some skills, such as technological as well as social and emotional skills, will rise, even as the demand for others, including physical and manual skills, will fall. These changes will require workers everywhere to deepen their existing skill sets or acquire new ones. Companies, too, will need to rethink how work is organized within their organizations.
This briefing, part of our ongoing research on the impact of technology on the economy, business, and society, quantifies time spent on 25 core workplace skills today and in the future for five European countries—France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom—and the United States and examines the implications of those shifts.
Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the nature of work. In this discussion paper, part of our ongoing research on the impact of technology on the economy, business, and society, we present new findings on the coming shifts in demand for workforce skills and how work is organized within companies, as people increasingly interact with machines in the workplace. We quantify time spent on 25 core workplace skills today and in the future for the United States and five European countries, with a particular focus on five sectors: banking and insurance, energy and mining, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail.
- Automation will accelerate the shift in required workforce skills we have seen over the past 15 years. Our research finds that the strongest growth in demand will be for technological skills, the smallest category today, which will rise by 55 percent and by 2030 will represent 17 percent of hours worked, up from 11 percent in 2016. This surge will affect demand for basic digital skills as well as advanced technological skills such as programming. Demand for social and emotional skills such as leadership and managing others will rise by 24 percent, to 22 percent of hours worked. Demand for higher cognitive skills will grow moderately overall, but will rise sharply for some of these skills, especially creativity.
- Some skill categories will be less in demand. Basic cognitive skills, which include basic data input and processing, will decline by 15 percent, falling to 14 percent of hours worked from 18 percent. Demand for physical and manual skills, which include general equipment operation, will also drop, by 14 percent, but will remain the largest category of workforce skills in 2030 in many countries, accounting for 25 percent of the total hours worked. Skill shifts will play out differently across sectors. Healthcare, for example, will see a rising need for physical skills, even as demand for them declines in manufacturing and other sectors.
- Competition for high-skill workers will increase, while displacement will be concentrated mainly on low-skill workers, continuing a trend that has exacerbated income inequality and reduced middle-wage jobs. Companies say that high-skill workers are most likely to be hired and retrained, and to see rising wages. Firms in the forefront of automation adoption expect to attract the talent they need, but slower adopters fear their options will be more limited.
McKinsey & Company is an American worldwide management consulting firm. It conducts qualitative and quantitative analysis to evaluate management decisions across public and private sectors.