McKinsey: Buckle Up for a Whole Lotta Retraining!

McKinsey says we don’t need to worry that AI, robots etc will create mass unemployment — there will be plenty of new work. The catch: not enough people will know how to do it.

By 2030, according to the a recent McKinsey Global Institute report, Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation, as many as 375 million workers—or roughly 14 percent of the global workforce—may need to switch occupational categories as digitization, automation, and advances in artificial intelligence disrupt the world of work. The kinds of skills companies require will shift, with profound implications for the career paths individuals will need to pursue.

How big of a disruption are we talking here?

it’s akin to coping with the large-scale shift from agricultural work to manufacturing that occurred in the early 20th century in North America and Europe…. Those earlier workforce transformations took place over many decades, allowing older workers to retire and new entrants to the workforce to transition to the growing industries. But the speed of change today is potentially faster. The task confronting every economy, particularly advanced economies, will likely be to retrain and redeploy tens of millions of midcareer, middle-age workers. As the MGI report notes, “there are few precedents in which societies have successfully retrained such large numbers of people.”

And that was just one transition. As AI and robots keep getting better, even if there are enough new jobs to be had, it’s quite possible millions will go throgh this trauma over and over — assuming, of course, that this unprecedentedly massive retraining efforts can pull it off the first time.

Who’s going to pull off this moumental task? According to CEOs, not the government.

While they clearly do not expect to solve this alone—forging creative partnerships with a wide range of relevant players, for example, will be critical—by a nearly a 5:1 margin, the executives in our latest survey believe that corporations, not governments, educators, or individual workers, should take the lead in trying to close the looming skills gap. That’s the view of 64 percent of the private-sector executives in the United States who see this as a top-ten priority issue, and 59 percent in Europe.

But are they begnning to take actions anywhere near the scale needed to back up their beliefs? Not that I’ve seen. And they don’t think so either; only 16% said they felt very prepared to kick into gear.

Not to worry, says McKinsey.

But for now, we simply take comfort from the clear message of our latest survey: among large companies, senior executives see an urgent need to rethink and retool their role in helping workers develop the right skills for a rapidly changing economy—and their will to meet this challenge is strong. That’s not a bad place to start.

I feel so much better.

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