October 21, 2020
The Future of Jobs 2020 report from the World Economic Forum claims that COVID-19 has caused the labour market to change faster than expected. The research suggests that what was recently considered the future of work has now arrived. By 2025, automation and a new division of labour between humans and machines will disrupt 85 million jobs globally in medium and large businesses across 15 industries and 26 economies.
Roles in areas such as data entry, accounting and administrative support are decreasing in demand as automation and digitization in the workplace increases. More than 80 percent of business executives are accelerating plans to digitize work processes and deploy new technologies; and 50 percent of employers are expecting to accelerate the automation of some roles in their companies. In contrast to previous years, job creation is now slowing while job destruction is accelerating.
The window of opportunity for proactive management of this change is closing fast
Now in its third edition, The Future of Jobs report sets out to map the jobs and skills of the future, tracking the pace of change and shifting focus to what might be considered the next future of work. It aims to shed light on the pandemic-related disruptions in 2020, contextualized within a longer history of economic cycles and the expected outlook for technology adoption, jobs and skills in the next five years. The Future of Jobs survey informs the report. It is based on the projections of senior business leaders (typically Chief Human Resource Officers and Chief Strategy Officers) representing nearly 300 global companies, which collectively employ 8 million workers.
“COVID-19 has accelerated the arrival of the future of work,” said Saadia Zahidi, Manging Director, World Economic Forum. “Accelerating automation and the fallout from the COVID-19 recession has deepened existing inequalities across labour markets and reversed gains in employment made since the global financial crisis in 2007-2008. It’s a double disruption scenario that presents another hurdle for workers in this difficult time. The window of opportunity for proactive management of this change is closing fast. Businesses, governments and workers must plan to urgently work together to implement a new vision for the global workforce.”
Some 43 percent of businesses surveyed indicate that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration, 41 percent plan to expand their use of contractors for task-specialized work, and 34 percent plan to expand their workforce due to technology integration.
By 2025, employers will divide work between human and machines equally. Roles that leverage human skills will rise in demand. Machines will be primarily focused on information and data processing, administrative tasks and routine manual jobs for white- and blue-collar positions.
A reskilling revolution
As the economy and job markets evolve, 97 million new roles will emerge across the care economy, in fourth industrial revolution technology industries like artificial intelligence, and in content creation fields. The tasks where humans are set to retain their comparative advantage include managing, advising, decision-making, reasoning, communicating and interacting. There will be a surge in demand for workers who can fill green economy jobs, roles at the forefront of the data and artificial intelligence economy, as well as new roles in engineering, cloud computing and product development.
For those workers set to remain in their roles in the next five years, nearly 50 percent will need reskilling for their core skills.
Despite the current economic downturn, most employers recognize the value of reskilling their workforce. An average of 66 percent of employers surveyed expect to see a return on investment in upskilling and reskilling of current employees within one year. They also expect to successfully redeploy 46 percent of workers within their own organization. “In the future, we will see the most competitive businesses are the ones that have invested heavily in their human capital – the skills and competencies of their employees,” Zahidi said.
The individuals and communities most negatively affected by the unprecedented changes brought about by COVID-19 are likely to be those that are already most disadvantaged. In the absence of proactive efforts, inequality is likely to be exacerbated by the dual impact of technology and the pandemic recession.
The public sector will need a three-tiered approach to help workers
The Future of Jobs 2020 report partner ADP Research Institute tracked the impact of COVID-19 on the United States labour market. Between February and May 2020, data showed that displaced workers were, on average, mostly female, younger and had a lower wage. Comparing the impact of the global financial crisis of 2008 on individuals with lower education levels to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the impact today is far more significant and more likely to deepen existing inequalities.
“In the wake of COVID-19, the US workforce experienced immense change, and we were able to track this impact on the labour market in near real time,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, Head of ADP Research Institute Labour Market Research. “While the swift and staggering job loss in the initial months was significant, it is only one anomaly of this ‘recession.’ Industry distribution, business size and worker demographics were all disrupted due to labour market changes brought about by COVID-19, signalling that this downturn is unlike any other in modern US history.”
Currently, only 21 percent of businesses worldwide are able to make use of public funds for reskilling and upskilling programmes to help them cope with the near future of work. The report suggests that the public sector will need a three-tiered approach to help workers. This includes providing stronger safety nets for displaced workers, improving the education and training systems and creating incentives for investments in markets and the jobs of tomorrow.
Companies can measure and disclose their treatment of employees by adopting environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics. This will help benchmark success, provide support where it is needed and ensure new gaps that arise are quickly identified and closed.
Remote working needs to adapt
Some 84 percent of employers are set to rapidly digitalize working processes, including a significant expansion of remote working. Employers say there is the potential to move 44 percent of their workforce to operate remotely.
According to the report, 78 percent of business leaders expect some negative impact on worker productivity. This suggests that some industries and companies are struggling to adapt quickly enough to the shift to remote working caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To address concerns about productivity and wellbeing, about one-third of all employers said they will take steps to create a sense of community, connection and belonging among their employees.
The research also indicated that a growing number of people are making career changes to entirely new occupations as they anticipate their own future of work. According to LinkedIn data gathered over the past five years, some 50 percent of career shifts into data and artificial intelligence are from different fields. That figure is much higher for sales roles (75 percent), content creation and production positions, such as social media managers and content writers (72 percent), and engineering roles (67 percent).
Data shows how long to reskill
According to The Future of Jobs Survey, core skills such as critical thinking, analysis and problem-solving are consistently top of the reskilling and upskilling priorities for educators and businesses. Newly emerging in 2020 are skills in self-management such as resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.
Data from Coursera suggests that individuals could start gaining the top 10 skills for each emerging profession in people and culture, content writing, sales and marketing in one to two months. Those wishing to expand their skills in product development and data and artificial intelligence could do so in two to three months, and those switching into cloud computing and engineering could make headway in the new skillset through a four to five-month learning programme as they prepare for the future of work.
There has been a fourfold increase in the number of people seeking opportunities for online learning under their own initiative, a fivefold increase in employers offering their workers online learning opportunities and a ninefold enrolment increase in people accessing online learning through government programmes.
Those in employment are placing larger emphasis on personal development courses; those unemployed have placed greater emphasis on learning digital skills such as data analysis, computer science and information technology.
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