Skill Shift: Automation and the Future of the Workforce



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Research Summary: “Skill Shift: Automation and the Future of the Workforce” By Jacques Bughin, Eric Hazan, Susan Lund, Peter Dahlström, Anna Wiesinger, & Amresh Subramaniam, McKinsey & Company (2018)

Skill Shifts in the Future of the Workforce

skill shift


At Issue: Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the nature of work. As people increasingly interact with machines in the workplace, demand for workforce skills is shifting and how work is organized within companies is changing – both at an accelerated pace. Workers everywhere must either deepen their existing skill sets or acquire new ones. Companies, too, must rethink how work is organized and executed within their organizations.

Research Objective(s): This research on automation and AI in the workplace was completed as part of McKinsey’s wider effort to assess the impact of technology worldwide on the economy, business, and society.

Scope: The study focuses on five sectors – banking and insurance, energy and mining, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail – primarily in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Approach: The McKinsey team conducted both primary and secondary research, with a main goal of estimating the time spent on 25 core workplace skills, both today and in the future.

Findings: Automation and AI will accelerate the shift in required workforce skills that has been occurring over the past fifteen years. The demand for technological skills, currently the smallest category of workforce competencies, will rise the most – 55 percent – and by 2030 will represent 17 percent of hours worked, up from 11 percent in 2016. This surge will encompass increased demand for both basic digital competencies and advanced technological skills. However, basic cognitive tasks, such as simple data input and processing, will decline by 15 percent, falling to 14 percent of hours worked in 2030, down from 18 percent in 2016.

Companies will need to make significant organizational changes to stay competitive, and executive teams must acquire additional knowledge to lead the adoption of automation and AI technologies. Nearly 33 percent of firms are concerned that they currently lack the skills necessary to increase automation, and that this skills deficiency will negatively impact their future financial performance.

Competition for high-skill workers will continue to increase, and companies that are slow to adopt automation and AI technologies will experience increasing difficulty with attracting and retaining top talent.

Notes: The full text of this study can be accessed at

Researcher Profile: Allie Grace Garnett is a professional researcher and freelance writer with a background in finance and entrepreneurship. A serial entrepreneur who has established numerous businesses, Ms. Garnett previously was a founding Principal of Nexos Resource Partners (NRP), an energy project finance firm in New York. Prior to co-founding NRP, Ms. Garnett provided financial advisory and fund raising services to institutional-scale energy funds with Sustainable Development Capital. Ms. Garnett served as the Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships for the start-up Rentricity, and additionally founded a nonprofit organization (YAVA) that encourages volunteerism among college students. Ms. Garnett holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School and a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering degree from Northeastern University.


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