Forty Percent of Elementary School Teachers’ Work Could Be Automated By 2030, McKinsey Global Institute Predicts

By Benjamin Herold — June 04, 2019 5 min read
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The impact of automation will vary for male and female workers, with women likely being more susceptible to partial automation of their current occupations, according to new projections from the McKinsey Global Institute.

One big example: elementary school teachers, roughly 80 percent of whom are female. In the coming decade, McKinsey Global predicts, more than 40 percent of what these educators do during a current workday could be automated, resulting in the need to develop new skills and become more comfortable collaborating with algorithmic systems.

And teachers could be the lucky ones: Overall, as many as one-fourth of U.S. women in the workforce today could need to find new occupation categories by 2030, MGI concludes.

The group’s new report, titled “The Future of Women at Work: Transitions in the Age of Automation,” offers a fresh perspective on the hotly debated future of work. As robots and artificial intelligence take over some of the routine tasks now done by humans, women will face particular challenges, the authors write, thanks in large measure to longstanding barriers such as unpaid work at home and fears of physical safety while in public.

“Women will need different skills and more education, mobility to switch jobs easily, and access to technological capabilities that will not only be in demand, but can also open up new ways of working and new sources of economic opportunity,” the report reads.

“The spread of automation could potentially displace millions of female workers from their current jobs, and many others will need to make radical changes in the way the work.”

Women and Automation, by the Numbers

Economists and technologists are sharply divided over the long-term effects of automation, with predictions on what the labor market in 2030 might look like ranging from “gradual transformation” to “robot apocalypse.”

The uncertainty has left K-12 educators, administrators and policymakers--those most directly responsible today for preparing the workforce of tomorrow--in a bind, as Education Week explored in depth last year.

Here’s how the McKinsey Global Institute sees things playing out, after modeling a range of scenarios and examining the economies of 10 countries (the U.S., plus Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, China, India Mexico, and South Africa.)

Globally, anywhere from 40 to 160 million people will need to transition jobs by 2030, the group predicts. While a wide range of jobs will likely be lost, a roughly corresponding number of new jobs will likely be created.

Women’s rate of displacement will likely be similar to men’s, the researchers say. But the changes will happen in different sectors. More than half of women’s job losses could occur in service and clerical-support occupations, for example, while 40 percent of men’s job losses could be in machine and craft-work occupations. Meanwhile, women could be overrepresented in new healthcare jobs, while men are overrepresented in new manufacturing jobs.

And in an increasingly competitive job market where machines and algorithms perform the bulk of repetitive physical and cognitive work, middle-wage jobs could be hit particularly hard. That means it will likely take a combination of higher education credentials, strong technical and interpersonal skills, and lots of flexibility to avoid the dead-end, low-wage jobs of the future.

It’s here that “long-established barriers” to women’s professional advancement could create continued obstacles, McKinsey Global contends.

Women “often have less time to reskill or search for employment because they spend much more time than men on unpaid care work; are less mobile due to physical safety, infrastructure, and legal challenges; and have lower access to digital technology and participation in STEM fields than men,” according to a press release accompanying the report.

“These challenges have already slowed women’s progress, which comes at a high cost. Previous MGI research estimated that narrowing gender gaps could add $12 trillion to the global economy in 2025.”

What It Means for K-12

What should those in the K-12 field make of the report?

For one, said Mekala Krishnan, a senior fellow at the McKinsey Global Institute and one of the report’s authors, schools need to help ensure that girls are positioning themselves for the jobs that will actually be in demand when they hit the workforce.

“Our biggest recommendation is that knowledge is power for girls--the more educators and policymakers can work proactively with the private sector to share the market ‘signal’ with girls, while they are still building their skills, and help them understand what jobs and skills will be most in demand, the more girls will be prepared to succeed,” Krishnan wrote in an emailed response to questions.

It’s also important that today’s educators understand how the ways in which work is gendered could affect the futures their female students face.

Women may be particularly well served by receiving the training to participate in flexible and remote work arrangements that involve telecommuting, the report suggests. Moving up the ladder in the healthcare field might mean less emphasis on routine data entry, which will soon by done by automated agents, and more focus on the social and emotional aspects of patient care.

And for tomorrow’s educators?

New technological systems for sharing lessons, managing inventory, communicating with parents, and tracking student progress could all continue to change what the workday looks like. More customization of lessons, individual coaching, and personal professional development will be where it’s at, McKinsey Global predicts.

As with other occupations, that points to the need for a concerted effort to make sure that both the women workers and female students of today are ready for the new world of tomorrow, the researchers conclude.

“If we don’t specifically retrain women for the new world of work, we risk leaving them behind,” said Lareina Yee, co-author of the report and chief diversity and inclusion officer at McKinsey, in a statement.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.