Up to 12.5 million Americans could struggle to find work in 2030 due to a growing skills gap

Severely impacted industries include architecture, engineering and healthcare, while jobs for computer and math professionals will soar, according to a new report.

Job skills concept

Image: iStock/t:Radachynskyi

The U.S. will likely experience a shortfall in its workforce of 600,000 to 12.5 million—between 0.9% to 4.2% of its workforce—by 2030, according to a joint report released by Faethm and Boston Consulting Group. Key occupations expected to be severely impacted are architecture and engineering.

A deficit of these workers is set to rise sharply, from 60,000 in 2020 to 1.3 million in 2030, while jobs in computers and mathematics will soar from 571,000 in 2020 to 6.1 million by 2030, according to the report. The deficit for health care practitioners and technical support will rise to 1.1 million and to nearly 1.7 million, respectively, by 2030.

The report, "The Future of Jobs in the Era of AI," draws its findings from three technology adoption scenarios and two recovery scenarios generated by Faethm's SaaS platform, which uses AI to understand the impact of automation and varying levels of technology adoption on economic, people, companies and jobs, the company said. 

SEE: The 10 hottest cloud computing jobs on Indeed (TechRepublic)

The role of humans in the economy will shift dramatically in all three models due to the increasing adoption of automation, artificial intelligence and other technologies. This suggests there will be an impact on millions of jobs across blue-collar and white-collar roles in areas such as administrative and office support, according to the report. COVID-19 hastened this effect in 2020 by accelerating technology adoption, the report said. 

The report's authors said they looked at a variety of factors to determine how the supply and demand for individual types of jobs will change. These include shifts in the size of the national workforce due to college graduation rates, retirements and mortality, along with tech adoption rates and the impact of COVID-19 on economic growth. 

Workforce supply and demand were analyzed in the U.S., Germany and Australia. The technologies the authors examined included programmed intelligence, narrow AI, broad AI and reinforced AI.  

Automation will be a blessing and a curse

The report makes the point that while humans may no longer be needed for some tasks, they will be necessary to help develop automation. Despite eliminating the need for human employees for many routine and administrative tasks, technology can create new jobs as the demand rises across all sectors for software developers, data analysts, cybersecurity testers and other digital specialists, according to the report.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Technology and automation will also drive people out of work: In office and administrative support roles across the U.S., the surplus of workers will rise from 1.4 million in 2020 to 3.0 million in 2030.

  • There is a strong need to redeploy, upskill or reskill people: In the U.S., for every six jobs that are being automated or augmented by new technologies, one additional job will be needed to develop, implement and run those new technologies.

"Automation of mundane, repetitive tasks in legal, accounting, administrative and similar professions will mean that core human abilities—such as empathy, imagination, creativity and emotional intelligence, which cannot be replicated by technology—will become more valuable," explained Stephen Farrell, vice president at Faethm, in a statement. "The U.S. needs a labor force that has the right composition of skills to meet the needs of the digital age, which demands public and private sector actors to upskill and reskill on a large scale."

Increased job automation will also create significant opportunities, mainly in enabling workers to undertake higher-value tasks, the report said. For example, the removal of mundane, repetitive tasks in legal, accounting, administrative, and similar professions opens the possibility for employees to take on more strategic roles.

This also illustrates how automation will affect not only blue-collar jobs but white-collar occupations as well, the report said.

"Meanwhile, core human abilities—such as empathy, imagination, creativity, and emotional intelligence, which cannot be replicated by technology—will become more valuable,'' the report said. "The supply of talent for occupations that require these abilities—such as health care workers, teachers, and counselors—is currently limited … At the same time, crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the importance of these occupations in ensuring societal well-being."

The ability to successfully manage the transition to a future workforce will minimize the economic and social friction associated with the misalignment of supply and demand, said Kelsey Clark, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group, in a statement.

Proactively learn new skills

Among the steps national and local government stakeholders can take to prepare for a digitized future are to hone their predictions of how the workforce will change over time through predictive analytics and develop training programs to give displaced workers new skills.  

In terms of companies, they should anticipate the skills and capabilities they will need to succeed in the future, improve their recruiting and retention programs, and build a culture of lifelong learning, the report recommended.

Companies "should also evaluate future demand on the basis of strategic direction and determine the gaps for certain jobs and specific skills," and proactively design the measures needed to close those gaps, the report said. Individuals can also do their part by proactively learning new skills and being flexible about changes over time, the report said. 

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By Esther Shein

Esther Shein is a longtime freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in several online and print publications. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of Datamation, a managing editor at BYTE, and a senior writer at eWeek (formerly PC Week)...