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Automation impacting the future workforce

The report comes from McKinsey and it is part of an evolving research project on the influence of new technology on the economy, business, employment, and society. The research assesses changing skills and forms of employment, as measure against core workplace skills across key European countries: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, plus the U.S. The aim is to trend shifts over time and detect new patterns of working and types of employment.

Automation: Good or bad?

The rise of automation and the economic and employment effects divide opinion. According to PwC analysis, artificial intelligence, robotics and other forms of smart automation can deliver great economic benefits, perhaps contributing up to $15 trillion to global GDP by 2030. Alternative arguments indicate that deskilling of work is likely, a loss of jobs and a rise in unemployment. In other words, robot workers creating a new underclass of jobless humans. Indeed the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney has warned of robots taking jobs leading to rise in the idea of Marxism and ‘labor process theory’.

Mixed message?

Striking a balance, the McKinsey report sees opportunities and threats, in examining skill shifts across different industrial sectors. In terms of general trends across the economy, social and emotional skills are expected to grow in demand across all economic areas and the need for basic cognitive skills will decline. However, beyond this different industrial patterns can be discerned across different sectors.

Banking and finance

In banking and finance cognitive skills among the job roles future workforce could well decline the most given the ability of machines to make financial decisions, such as evaluating loan requests. This arises because the financial-services sector presents a range of potential uses for artificer intelligence, such as with forecasting risk and targeting customer marketing. Consequently, the proportion of workers employed as tellers, accountants, and brokerage clerks will fall. However, there will be employment prospects for those tasked with data input and processing. The main growth areas will be with technology experts.

Utilities and manufacturing

In the utilities sector automation are enabling companies to become smart about energy use. The effect is that manual work requiring data manipulation or process checks will be displaced; however, the need for technological jobs will increase. With manufacturing, jobs likely to decline are those geared around product development and on marketing and sales. However, the largest drops will be with physical and manual skills, especially given the rise of robotics.


With healthcare, the need for nurses is unlikely to be affected. However, automation will eliminate many back office-support functions like record keeping and administration. In addition, staff currently measurement patient vital signs and analyzing medical data will have a diminished role since automated systems will be able to carry out these tasks with increased efficiency.


Many retail jobs will disappear with automation. As examples self-checkout machines will increasingly replace cashiers; robots restock shelves; and algorithms will improves prediction of customer demand. The types of roles unaffected will include customer service, management, and technology deployment and maintenance.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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