Predicting how advances in technology and automation will impact jobs is more of an art than a science.
Researchers and economists lean on data like workforce metrics, the rate at which certain technologies are being adopted and macro trends to anticipate how labor markets will move. One primary reason for this is to inform policymakers and business leaders about what’s happening and why.
In 2020, the pandemic threw a wrench in historic predictions and demonstrated how trends that would have otherwise taken years to manifest are now accelerating rapidly.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an international organization that consists of experts across disciplines who collectively work together to understand what the future will look like for all of us.
To many, the WEF is known for its high-profile annual conference in Davos where billionaires, politicians, executives, and celebrities go to share ideas. In this setting, agenda topics range from environmental sustainability issues to public/private partnerships to the pros and cons of globalization.
What’s lesser-known is that the WEF compiles annual economic and business research documents, including the “The Future of Jobs Report 2020,” which was recently published. However, among some industry experts, this is often viewed as a critical indicator of what’s to come.
This year, the 163-page report outlines how the jobs and skills of today will evolve in the future based on the disruptions brought on by the pandemic. The depth of data, along with the international lens, makes it an interesting read for anyone fascinated with macroeconomics, labor markets, and the adoption of technology.
While there is an overwhelming amount of insights that can be gleaned from the report, a few themes appear to be most pertinent and serve as key findings from the research.
Here are five important takeaways from WEF’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2020”:
- The workforce is experiencing a major ‘double-disruption’ because pandemic-caused lockdowns and layoffs are coming at the exact same time that many businesses are embracing the use of more automation. According to survey data in the report, 43% of businesses say they are planning to reduce jobs because of technology integration, while 41% intend on increasingly using contractors for ‘task-specialized work’. Contrast this against the 34% that say they will grow their workforce thanks to the integration of technology. These changes are primarily expected between now and the year 2025.
- The elimination of jobs is accelerating while job creation is slowing down. Among the companies surveyed, it’s estimated that jobs that are considered redundant will go from more than 15% of a company’s total to less than 10%. Furthermore, professions that are considered newer skilled and emerging will grow from nearly 8% to over 13%. Through this data, the WEF projects that nearly 85 million jobs could be displaced for roles that divide human work from machine work, while a new set of 97 million jobs could be created that require skills around machine interaction and algorithmic expertise.
- Remote work is now being considered by more companies than ever before. Based on responses from senior human resources executives, nearly 44% of employees are said to be able to work remotely during the pandemic. This will be met with the digitization of more processes and a larger prioritization by organizations on creating community, connections, and well-being among employees.
- Unless we see meaningful intervention by the government or business community, a widening inequality gap is likely to get worse, based on the WEF assessment. Women, young people, and lower-wage workers are most represented among the jobs most negatively impacted during this most recent global crisis. Furthermore, even when compared to the economic hardship that followed the Great Recession of 2008, today’s situation is direr and will draw more inequalities for those with less education.
- Despite the high rates of jobs that are projected to be displaced in the coming years, business leaders are still prioritizing reskilling measures to retain employees. They see value in keeping current employees and repurposing them, particularly in industries and roles with a public-private sector component. According to WEF data, companies expect to reskill and repurpose nearly half of workers that find themselves displaced by technology. This favor towards retention and against layoffs represent a sentiment among business leaders that speaks to more than just financial motives.
In addition to the research data compiled above, the detailed report also sheds light on the jobs that are in the highest demand, as well as those with decreasing demand.
Unsurprisingly, the ranking of in-demand jobs corresponds closely with each role’s requirement of critical thinking, judgment, creativity, and analysis. This also means that the level of demand for jobs facing displacement can be closely correlated with its repetitiveness, simplicity, and lack of critical thinking.
The top jobs with increasing demand, in order, are as follows: data analysts and scientists, AI and machine learning specialists, big data specialists, digital marketing and strategy specialists, process automation specialists, business development professionals, digital transformation specialists, information security analysts, software/applications developers, and internet of things specialists.
Conversely, the top 10 jobs where demand is decreasing most heavily, in order, are as follows: data entry clerks, administrative and executive secretaries, payroll and bookkeeping clerks, accountants & auditors, assembly and factory workers, business services and administration managers, client information and customer service workers, general and operations managers, mechanics and machinery repairers, and stock-keeping clerks.
As we move into 2021 and the situation surrounding the pandemic evolves, it’s possible that some of the previously reported findings shift back to predicted 2018 or 2019 levels. However, it’s also possible that business leaders continue to lean towards more of a technology-centered organization in hopes of bringing their company into the workplace of the future.
Accordingly, employees of all industries and seniority levels should remain keenly aware of how fast things can change. Just as no one expected such a crazy economic and health headwind in 2020, we need to be aware of tectonic changes that could be lurking right around the corner.