The Machines Are Taking Over Menial Work—But Tech Skills Are In High Demand


2030. That’s the year that the current demand for advanced IT and programming skills will nearly double. That’s right: with the widespread adoption of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), the demand for specific technology skills is expected to increase by 90% within the next dozen or so years.

That’s one of the predictions made by the McKinsey Global Institute in “Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce.” The McKinsey report maps an easy way for smart workers to gain an edge—and stay ahead of the curve.

Here are just a few of the report’s most revealing predictions—and what they mean for the future of work.

The demand for technological skills of all levels is on the rise

You don’t need a crystal ball to see that technology will continue to transform the way we work. McKinsey’s data suggests that, between now and 2030, the amount of time we spend using advanced tech skills at work will increase by 50% in the U.S. and 41% in Europe. And a survey of more than 3,000 C-suite executives found that programming and advanced IT skills are expected to be the most important in the coming three years.

But it’s not just complex tech skills that will grow in prominence. The rise in demand for basic digital competencies will be astronomical, too—increasing by 69% in the U.S. and 65% in Europe.

To augment all the tech, social and emotional skills will also be highly sought after

Through AI and machine learning, new technologies are growing more human-like every day. But that doesn’t mean they’ll replace old-fashioned human interaction. As companies hunt for more tech talent, the demand for finely-tuned social and emotional skills is predicted to increase—by 26% in the U.S. and 22% in Europe.

While some social skills come naturally, there are still many that can be taught, maintained, and refined. Take communication—there’s a huge difference between chatting with friends and delivering a careful board presentation. You can freshen up on skills like this in the classroom, the workplace, or just in front of the mirror, and the time you put in today can pay off in the future.

McKinsey also foresees a substantial increase in demand for entrepreneurial, leadership, and people-management skills—and innovation will continue to be important, too.

While machines won’t replace people, automation will take over many physical, manual, and basic cognitive tasks

The rise of the machines is having an effect on jobs—but not the effect many people expect. McKinsey found that only 6% of companies foresee their workforces shrinking as a result of automation and AI. In fact, 17% even expect their workforces to grow in size.

But some job types will be more affected than other. While higher cognitive skills like creativity and critical thinking will only become more useful, AI and automation will reduce the demand for work which requires basic cognitive skills like literacy and numeracy. What’s more, the machines will likely take over the most menial and repetitive tasks, such as basic data input and processing, packing boxes, and stacking shelves.

That’s not to say that all physical and manual jobs will become obsolete. Some still benefit from the human touch, like patient-centric hospital roles. But across virtually every industry, the demand for digital capabilities is far outweighing that for physical and manual skills—and this is only going to increase by 2030.

The future of work is digital

Companies across the U.S. and Europe are already feeling the burn of the digital skills gap. Nearly half (47%) are turning their attention toward internal retraining, with 37% looking at the bigger picture and considering partnerships with educational institutions to ensure retraining is effective.

It never hurts to learn new skills. But in the years to come, continuous learning and skills retraining may quickly become essential to staying relevant in the workplace—and there’s never been a better time to start.


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