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Reskilling - Udacity - Lifelong Learning

For the record, the answer to the question posed in the title is “yes.”

Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation

It’s important this answer be heard loud and clear, especially in light of all the conversations swirling around the release of an important new McKinsey report entitled Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions In A Time Of Automation.

The report has provoked strong reactions, and while the report itself offers much to be hopeful for, you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the subsequent articles published in its wake.

Fear vs. Viable Paths Forward

When you read a headline like this one, for example (from an article published by Axios), it’s understandable that you might feel worried:

McKinsey: automation may wipe out 1/3 of America’s workforce by 2030

But it’s critical that we read deeper into the data to uncover the real implications, and more than that, to understand what we can, should, and must do about it.

Articles like this one can in theory be helpful, in that they simplify and bring forward highlights that might otherwise be hard to unearth—the full McKinsey report is 160 pages long, after all. But they’re also problematic, because they can contribute to the kind of fear-mongering that obscures our many viable paths forward.

A quick review of related headlines makes clear how confusing this landscape can be:

The Bright Side of Job-Killing Automation

Robots Will Take Jobs, but Not as Fast as Some Fear, New Report Says

Automation May Require up to 376 Million to Reskill by 2030, McKinsey Report Says

McKinsey: Business Automation is Not a Bad Word

By 2030, automation may force up to 375 million workers to switch occupations

Lifting Productivity and Economic Growth

The Axios article’s headline draws on one primary statement made in the report’s summary, which actually reads a little bit differently:

“Our scenarios across 46 countries suggest that between almost zero and one-third of work activities could be displaced by 2030, with a midpoint of 15 percent.”

In this same summary, under a list of “key findings,” you will also find the following:

“Automation technologies including artificial intelligence and robotics will generate significant benefits for users, businesses, and economies, lifting productivity and economic growth.”

“Even with automation, the demand for work and workers could increase as economies grow, partly fueled by productivity growth enabled by technological progress.”

So all is not lost, to say the least.

The Bottom Line

In defense of the Axios article, author Steve LeVine ultimately does offer some balanced perspective, despite the provocative title. For example, here is how Levine describes the report’s “bottom line”:

“The economy of most countries will eventually replace the lost jobs, the study says, but many of the unemployed will need considerable help to shift to new work.”

This presents a pretty classic glass-half-empty/glass-half-full scenario; either you focus on the lost jobs, or on the new opportunities.

Udacity, of course, opts for the glass-half-full approach, which returns us to our post’s central question: Can proactive reskilling today prevent job loss in the future? Our answer is “yes,” and here’s why: because we have knowledge of what’s coming, and what’s possible. We teach the technologies that are already transforming the future of work, and we witness in our classrooms every day how lifelong learners are embracing the opportunities these technologies represent.

A Critical Point of Distinction

Here is an especially critical point of distinction between Levine’s summary of the McKinsey report, and the actual language of the report:

“…almost half of those thrown out of work—375 million people, comprising 14% of the global workforce—will have to find entirely new occupations.” (Levine)

“Our scenarios suggest that by 2030, 75 million to 375 million workers (3 to 14 percent of the global workforce) will need to switch occupational categories.” (McKinsey report)

For those of us engaged in helping the currently employed master new skills, there is a HUGE difference between having to “find entirely new occupations” and the “need to switch occupational categories.” The former suggests starting over, the latter suggests migration.

The Case for Reskilling

It’s no secret that the currently employed are in many ways one of the more vulnerable demographics in these “age of automation” scenarios. Mid-career professionals in particular came into the workforce under a very different set of rules and expectations than the set they’re going to be working under in the not-so-distant future. And regrettably, they’re far too often being told that everything they’ve worked so hard to build—every skill they’ve learned, every year of experience they’ve notched—will be all for naught, because they’re going to have to start over. The truth is, they’re not going to have to start over. But they are going to have to reskill. They’re going to have to learn new things. They’re going to have to shift, pivot, and adjust.

This sentiment is succinctly expressed in the McKinsey report:

“Mid-career job training will be essential, as will enhancing labor market dynamism and enabling worker redeployment.”

The report goes on to lay the groundwork for the paths forward:

“These changes will challenge current educational and workforce training models, as well as business approaches to skill-building.”

The New Model, The New Approach

Which is where Udacity comes in. Our goal is to deliver the new model, and to embody the new approach. And we mean to do so now. If you embrace the lifelong learning ethos, and proactively inaugurate your reskilling process today, we believe you can significantly lessen the likelihood of having to endure “gaps” between the loss of an old role, and the assumption of a new one.

If you’re in one of the careers that stands to be impacted by the age of automation, why not prepare for what comes next, now? After all, job change is a whole lot better than job loss.


Udacity connects lifelong learning to the jobs of today, tomorrow, and beyond!

Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins is Senior Writer and Chief Words Officer at Udacity. He types on a MacBook or iPad by day, and either an Underwood, Remington, or Royal by night. He carries a Moleskine everywhere.