What 375 million people will have to do when robots take their jobs

Where to?
Where to?
Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
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By 2030, as many as 375 million workers—or 14% of the global workforce—could be useless in their jobs, thanks to automation.

That figure comes from the McKinsey Global Institute, which released a report today (Nov. 29) looking at the displacement that automation will cause in the near future. Research analysts from the consultancy firm estimate that somewhere between 400 million and 800 million people will find themselves in need of new jobs as automation and machine learning creep into industries all over the world. Of that number, McKinsey suggests 375 million will have to switch occupational categories entirely.

Those people aren’t doomed to unemployment—they’ll simply have to learn a radically new set of skills for work. But that’s a bit of a problem if you consider how little countries and employers have been spending in recent decades on methods of income support (such as unemployment insurance or job-transition benefits) or forward-thinking training.

In the US, for instance, “more people need secondary training, but it’s costing more and more to get,” Susan Lund, a leader of the McKinsey Global Institute, tells Quartz, referring to the ever-soaring tuition costs of higher education in the country. “That’s clearly going to be a big challenge.”

Luckily, there are solutions in the works. Some countries, such as Germany and Sweden, are experimenting with employment models that specifically invest in worker retraining. Many individual firms are also trying out encouragement initiatives for employees to learn new skills mid-career. The relative cheapness of online education—and the increasing abundance of free skills courses on the internet—may also prove a boon to the millions of people who will need to retrain themselves without the support of a government or organization.

“It’s going to take a shift in mindset,” Lund says. “People need to expect they may not only have entirely different employers, but entirely different occupations. We talk about lifelong learning, but in the next five to 10 years, we’ve actually got to make that a reality—it will require changes from employers and policy-makers, but also individuals, on how we think of jobs.”

Starting to change that mindset now—before the robot apocalypse is upon us—may be a good plan.