In brief

In brief

  • New forms of value will be created in the “missing middle,” the work roles which require humans to collaborate with AI and intelligent machines.
  • More advanced human skills will be needed to achieve the full potential of the missing middle.
  • In association, with the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program, we propose three dimensions of skill development that workers and employers should pursue together.

Human skills are surging

As companies rapidly adopt Artificial Intelligence (AI) and related technologies, some job roles will be done exclusively by humans while others will be taken on by intelligent automation. But most emerging roles will be fulfilled by people and machines working together in the dynamic space Accenture calls “the missing middle.”

These roles will require people to apply higher level human skills. Our analysis of how skills have evolved in the 12 years to 2016 shows that more than half of jobs in the U.S. need more high-level creativity, 47 percent require more complex reasoning and 36 percent need more socio-emotional skills.

Change in the importance of skill type in U.S. from 2004 to 2016

100% = 151M Jobs in U.S. as of 2016

Graph shows for US jobs since 2004 there is increasing importance in advanced human skills such as complex reasoning and socio-emotional skills

Source: Accenture Research analysis of O*NET database

Accenture has undertaken extensive analysis of academic research exploring approaches to enhance human capital. We have identified the core high-level intelligences that will gain prominence in the age of human-machine collaboration, and that enable the application of these human skills.

The challenge is that, for many people, traditional forms of work have comprised routine and repetitive tasks. They have not necessarily required these high-level intelligences and skills. New forms of skills development and of lifelong learning are therefore urgently required.


of activities in the missing middle require employees to do different things and to do things differently.


of workers say they must develop their own skills to work with intelligent machines.

Three dimensions of skills development

Accenture proposes workers and their employers work together in three dimensions to accelerate the learning and application of essential human skills for the future of human and AI collaboration.

Graphic shows the three dimensions where workers and their employers work together to accelerate the learning and application of essential human skills for the future of human and AI collaboration: Shared Value, Mutual Readiness and Accelerated Ability. 

Mutual Readiness  Workers and employers must realize common aspirations in the new workplace.

  • Prepare for change  Implement a long‐term strategy and clearly communicate to employees well in advance.
  • Reimagine work  Start by assessing tasks needed, then map internal capabilities to these before developing new skills needed to bridge talent gaps.
  • Use AI to tap potential  AI algorithms can help identify hidden talents and transferrable skills, helping to make the most of existing talent.

Accelerated Ability – Provide workers with the latest resources to rapidly enhance human skills.

  • Use scientific methods  Such as neuroscience techniques to improve the effectiveness of learning, especially for more experienced workers.
  • Use smart technologies – Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can improve levels of immersion, enable people to experience real situations, and reduce the cost of training.
  • Teach each other  Encourage employees to foster new skills through peer-to-peer learning. This includes teaching, mentoring or helping to design learning materials.

Shared Value – Create a culture that values education and lifelong learning.

  • Create a sense of wellbeing about change  Give people time to adapt and prepare for new forms of work, recognizing individual needs.
  • Co-fund learning  Enable people to pursue their choice of skills development by subsidizing training programs with external stakeholders.
  • Encourage lifelong learning  Track performance outcomes and levels of engagement. Combine skills training with support to navigate new career pathways.

Paul Daugherty

Chief Technology and Innovation Officer – Accenture

Eva Sage-Gavin

Senior Managing Director – Talent and Organization

Madhu Vazirani

Principal Director Accenture Research

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