The skills least likely to be automated

By 2030, nearly a third of U.S. workers will be replaced by robots—but some occupations are less likely to be automated than others, finds a study by McKinsey & Company

Researchers analyzed more than 800 different jobs worldwide to predict the types of professions that are most likely to be affected by the coming wave of automation. Over the next 13 years, up to 70 million U.S. workers will need to learn new skills or change industries, Danielle Paquette reports for the Washington Post.

Automation can displace professionals at any stage of their career, says Michael Chui, the report's co-author. But the most vulnerable occupations are ones that involve repetitive work, says Chui, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute.

Work that involves predictable, repetitive tasks, like accounting and data processing, are most vulnerable to automation, according to the report. Researchers estimate that U.S. demand for office support workers will fall by 20%, while demand for physical labor positions like food preparation will fall by 30%, Paquette reports. 

The professions that are least likely to be automated are ones that rely on empathy or creativity, says Jason Hong, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. For example, caretakers and writers can expect to maintain job security in the coming decade, he adds. Similarly, positions that involve managing others face less risk of automation.

As we face a massive global shift in the nature of work, researchers call for investment in job training and education, Paquette writes. In the long term, the creation of new occupations will offset the number of jobs lost, report the study's authors. But to prepare people to make workplace transitions, the public and private sector need to invest in skills training and education, the authors add.

Unfortunately, about a third of industry leaders said they had "no confidence" that education and job training will evolve quickly enough to meet labor market demands, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.

But respondents who said it could be done—that higher education could provide the antidote for a completely automated economy—argued that colleges must teach their students soft skills that robots could never mimic.

Both groups of respondents agreed that higher education and employers alike need to do a better job training and educating students in both technical and soft skills—not just one or the other (Doubek, NPR, 12/1; Paquette, Washington Post, 12/1).

Soft skills, hard skills, missing skills—More ideas for tackling the skills gap


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