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Automation Will Create More Jobs Than It Will Eliminate, Analyst Says

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As technology reshapes the labor market, it will create more jobs than it will take away, according to an analyst who's studied automation's effect on work.

That viewpoint is part of an ongoing debate: Will automation result in fewer U.S. jobs, or more? James Manyika, the director of the McKinsey Global Institute and the lead author of the study on jobs and automation released earlier this month, emphasized a couple of key points from the report on National Public Radio's "Marketplace Morning Report" broadcast today.

The McKinsey study found that automation will create a net gain in jobs, as long as the economy grows.

"I think there's work for everybody," Manyika told Marketplace.

On that shifting landscape, however, Manyika said it will be more important than ever for workers to get the training—or retraining—that they need to fill those jobs. As automation reshapes the labor picture, investing in human capital will be more essential than ever, he told Marketplace. 

How well are we doing with that? Not well at all, Manyika said. The McKinsey team examined the practices of advanced-economy countries and found that they had weak records on training and support for displaced workers, and that the United States falls "at the lower end" of that performance scale.

The United States has been decreasing spending on training and support for those workers, and the private sector's investment in those supports is weak, Manyika said. As a result, a key challenge is how to encourage the private sector and government to "re-emphasize investment in human capital," he said.

Some key points from the study:

  • Automation will cause declines in some occupations, change many more, and create new occupations that don't exist today. Sixty percent of occupations have at least 30 percent of constituent work activities that could be automated. 
  • Half of all work activities around the globe could be automated, but probably only one-third or less will be displaced by 2030 because of technical, economic, and social factors. 
  • Even as automation changes labor dynamics, the "demand for work and workers could increase," in part because of rising productivity fueled by technological progress. Among the forces creating demand for work: increasing health care for aging societies and investment in infrastructure and energy.
  • Even with robust job growth, "major transitions" still lie ahead. By 2030, 75 million to 375 million workers—3 percent to 14 percent of the global workforce—will need to change the kinds of work they do. And still more workers will have to adapt what they do in order to work "alongside increasingly capable machines." Some of those changes could require additional education, or more creativity or social and emotional skills.
  • "Midcareer job training will be essential." The need to retrain and redeploy workers quickly "will challenge current educational and workforce training models." Businesses and policymakers will have to rethink and strengthen "transition and income support" for workers affected by automation.

For more stories on how technology is reshaping the job market, and its implications for K-12 education, see:

Schools and the Future of Work: 10 Research Reports You Need to See

The Future of Work is Uncertain, Schools Should Worry Now.

Preparing Students for Tomorrow's Jobs: 10 Experts Offer Advice to Educators 


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