What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages

Author: James Manyika, Susan Lund, Michael Chui, Jacques Bughin, Jonathan Woetzel, Parul Batra, Ryan Ko, and Saurabh Sanghvi, McKinsey Global Institute , Published on: 15 November 2017

...We previously found that about half the activities people are paid to do globally could theoretically be automated using currently demonstrated technologies. Very few occupations—less than 5 percent—consist of activities that can be fully automated. However, 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... While technical feasibility of automation is important, it is not the only factor that will influence the pace and extent of automation adoption. Other factors include the cost of developing and deploying automation solutions for specific uses in the workplace, the labor-market dynamics (including quality and quantity of labor and associated wages), the benefits of automation beyond labor substitution, and regulatory and social acceptance... [O]ur new research estimates that between almost zero and 30 percent of the hours worked globally could be automated by 2030, depending on the speed of adoption. 

... The potential impact of automation on employment varies by occupation and sector...Activities most susceptible to automation include physical ones in predictable environments, such as operating machinery and preparing fast food. Collecting and processing data are two other categories of activities that increasingly can be done better and faster with machines. This could displace large amounts of labor—for instance, in mortgage origination, paralegal work, accounting, and back-office transaction processing... Income support and other forms of transition assistance to help displaced workers find gainful employment will be essential. Beyond retraining, a range of policies can help, including unemployment insurance, public assistance in finding work, and portable benefits that follow workers between jobs... Businesses will be on the front lines of the workplace as it changes... Individuals, too, will need to be prepared for a rapidly evolving future of work... There will be demand for human labor, but workers everywhere will need to rethink traditional notions of where they work, how they work, and what talents and capabilities they bring to that work.

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