Industries Embracing Automation Also Face Widening Skills Gaps, Report Finds

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The Government Accountability Office noted that all education levels have important skills for in-demand jobs, but higher education levels provide workers with more in-demand skills.

Automation and technological advancements have changed the work landscape by displacing some tasks that were typically performed by people, while creating new jobs and industries. Exploring this topic, the United States Government Accountability Office issued a new report on workforce automation, highlighting skills that are projected to be in-demand over the next ten years.

GAO stated that the government “play[s] a role in helping to ensure that the workforce is equipped to meet current and future labor market demands.”

However, GAO noted that there is a gap between in-demand skills and workers with those skills, which is “especially apparent“ in industries that have more automation, like health care, information technology and manufacturing. Moreover, according to GAO, “as automation has replaced tasks performed by some types of workers, it has also created a greater demand for other types of workers” as some skills become obsolete.

GAO added that automation requires new skills, “such as monitoring an automated process,” which can lead to skill gaps. The report cited a study from Burning Glass Technologies that found that “technological advancement has caused the skills required for common job postings to change up to 40% in the last decade.” 

The data did not explicitly identify at-risk workers or jobs, GAO noted, but the Department of Labor and Census Bureau are examining skills needed for in-demand jobs.

The report highlighted there are many “important” skills—as defined by the DOL-sponsored Occupational Information Network—for in-demand jobs at every education level. As education level requirements increased, so did the number of required important skills.

Specifically, there are eight skills that are deemed important at all educational levels: active listening, speaking, monitoring, coordination, judgment and decision-making critical thinking, social perceptiveness and service orientation. 

There are five additional important skills for jobs that require at least some college or a bachelor’s degree: reading comprehension, time management, active learning, writing and complex problem solving.

Meanwhile, there are an additional six skills for jobs requiring at least a bachelor’s degree, such as systems evaluation, systems analysis, learning strategies, instruction, persuasion and management of personnel. 

As noted in the report, there is an array of skills needed for in-demand jobs, including soft and process skills. Moreover, GAO found that “in-demand occupations with more ‘important’ skills (as indicated by O*NET) tend to require higher levels of education and offer greater pay.”

The report indicated that certain skills and jobs are less likely to be automated, such as those with management and social skills. 

According to GAO, training programs are important for helping workers that are negatively impacted by automation and should include helping to train workers on skills that are needed for in-demand jobs, in addition to addressing training program barriers-to-entry, like childcare.

The report also suggested that the COVID-19 may have served as a catalyst for some of these changes and wide-spread technology adoptions.