Some 800 million jobs displaced in thirteen years sounds unthinkable, but it could be on the horizon.

The study, Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation, from management consultancy McKinsey Global, assessed the number and types of jobs that may be lost and created under different scenarios in 2030 using data from 46 countries and 800 occupations.

The findings confirm that automation is set to cause significant disruption to today’s workforce – but even McKinsey struggled to put an exact number on it.

“In about 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of the constituent activities could be automated, implying substantial workplace transformations and changes for all workers.

“In this report we mainly use the midpoint of our scenario range, which is 15 percent of current activities automated. Results differ significantly by country, reflecting the mix of activities currently performed by workers and prevailing wage rates.

“We estimate that between 400 million and 800 million individuals could be displaced by automation and need to find new jobs by 2030 around the world, based on our midpoint and earliest (that is, the most rapid) automation adoption scenarios.”

No profession safe but some safer than others

While the number of jobs lost to automation remained ambiguous, patterns emerged regarding the types of jobs that could be in danger, and the occupations that may benefit from automation.

“Very few occupations — less than 5 percent — consist entirely of activities that can be fully automated,” the report states.

“Advanced economies may also see employment declines in occupations that are most susceptible to automation.

“These include office support occupations, such as record clerks, office assistants, and finance and accounting; some customer interaction jobs, such as hotel and travel workers, cashiers, and food service workers; and a wide range of jobs carried out in predictable settings.

“Across all countries, the categories with the highest percentage job growth net of automation include health-care providers; professionals such as engineers, scientists, accountants, and analysts; IT professionals and other technology specialists.”

An ageing population could serve as a catalyst for the creation of new jobs, set to ramp up global consumption by up to $23 trillion and create 300 million to 365 million new jobs.

The report analysed data from almost 90% of global GDP using external macroeconomic forecasts and looks to identify future trends that may impact the future of work.

Looking back

Imperative to making such bold predictions on the future of work was looking backwards, at previous periods of significant economical and employment change.

It looked back to First Industrial Revolution in England in the 18th century and the subsequent shifts caused by mechanisation, highlighting significant declines in agriculture and manufacturing employment.

While pointing out that automation had led to employment decline in these specific sectors, the report reminded us that overall, periods of significant change had been met with growth.

“Throughout these large shifts of workers across occupations and industries, overall employment as a share of the population has generally continued to grow,” it states.

“Although the historical record is largely reassuring, some people worry that automation today will be more disruptive than in the past. Technology experts and economists are debating whether 'this time, things are different'.”

“History does not necessarily repeat itself, but it does provide valuable context and possible lessons for the future of labor demand in a time of automation.”