How automation could transform the labor force over the next decade
Acton Institute Powerblog

How automation could transform the labor force over the next decade

Over the next decade, automation will increase, changing the nature of the way we work. While this will lead to more jobs in the long-run it could also lead to an occupational shift on a scale not seen since the transition of the labor force out of agriculture in the early 1900s in the United States and Europe.

Those are some of the findings in a new report by the McKinsey Global Institute. Here are some of the highlights from the study:

Automation will affect many workers—but few jobs can be fully automated

Almost half of work activities people are paid to do globally could theoretically be automated using currently demonstrated technologies. In about 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of the constituent activities could be automated, implying substantial workplace transformations and changes for all workers. Very few occupations—less than 5 percent—consist of activities that can be fully automated.

Automation will affect some jobs more than others—but even those jobs aren’t likely to disappear

Jobs that require physical labor in predictable environments (such as operating machinery) are more susceptible to automation. The same is routine tasks such as preparing fast food or processing data. As the report notes, this could displace large amounts of labor in areas such as mortgage origination, paralegal work, accounting, and back-office transaction processing. While the number of jobs may decline in industries especially prone to automation, they will likely still exist and merely involve different tasks.

Relatively low-paying jobs in unpredictable environments are less susceptible

Occupations such as gardeners, plumbers, or providers of child- and eldercare will generally see less automation by 2030, because they are technically difficult to automate and often command relatively lower wages.

Many jobs and industries are expected to increase

The report notes several industries that are expected to have job growth net of automation:

  • healthcare providers
  • professionals such as engineers, scientists, accountants, and analysts
  • IT professionals and other technology specialists
  • managers and executives, whose work cannot easily be replaced by machines
  • educators, especially in emerging economies with young populations
  • “creatives,” a small but growing category of artists, performers, and entertainers who will be in demand as rising incomes create more demand for leisure and recreation
  • builders and related professions, particularly in the scenario that involves higher investments in infrastructure and buildings
  • manual and service jobs in unpredictable environments, such as home-health aides and gardeners

Many people around the globe will need to change occupations

The report estimates that between 400 million and 800 million individuals could be displaced by automation and need to find new jobs by 2030 around the world, based on our midpoint and most rapid automation adoption scenarios. Up to one-third of the 2030 workforce in the United States may need to switch jobs or industries.

The shift could be on a scale not seen since the transition of the labor force out of agriculture in the early 1900s in the United States and Europe, and more recently in in China.

There should still be enough work for everyone

The report notes that If history is any guide, we could also expect that 8 to 9 percent of 2030 labor demand will be in new types of occupations that have not existed before.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).