Study: Rise of Automation Will Require Training Boost in Coming Years

New research from McKinsey & Company argues that increased training will be necessary as jobs move away from manual tasks and toward work requiring technical skill and high-level thinking. Associations may be well-positioned to help.

Will the robots take our jobs? Maybe, maybe not, but at the very least they might require us to get more job-related training.

The rise of automation will require a constant change in workforce skills over the next few years—a trend that has been evident since 2002 but is likely to accelerate, according to a new study from McKinsey & Company. Automation will reduce the number of hours that people spend carrying out physical and basic cognitive tasks and increase time spent doing work requiring technological, social, and high-level cognitive skills. The need for tech skills will increase by 50 percent in the U.S. between now and 2030, the study says, with high-level IT and programming skills most in demand.

“People with these skills will inevitably be a minority,” the report states. “However, there is also a significant need for everyone to develop basic digital skills for the new age of automation.”

This shift is posing new management challenges for employers. The report lays out five ways that organizations can better utilize their current workforce, given the changes wrought by automation: retraining, redeployment, hiring, contracting, and releasing.

One of those rises above the others, however.  “We see retraining (or ‘reskilling’ as some like to call it) as the imperative of the coming decade,” study authors Jacques Bughin, Susan Lund, and Eric Hazan write in Harvard Business Review. “It is a challenge not just for companies, which are on the front lines, but also for educational institutions, industry and labor groups, philanthropists, and, of course, policymakers, who will need to find new ways to incentivize investments in human capital.”

While the need to retrain employees based on the growing use of automation represents a challenge, it could also be an opportunity, they write—one that could lead to an increase in productivity, wages, and prosperity.

Of course, all of that comes after the hard part—helping the workforce adapt to growing technological needs. This is where associations, as well as labor unions, can help, the authors say.

“Working together as social partners, associations and unions have traditionally played central roles in training efforts in several European countries,” the report states. “Both sets of stakeholders have potentially significant roles to play in addressing shortages of certain skills and retraining in the automation era.”

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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