The wave of technology adoption and advancement is not slowing down any time in the foreseeable future, and this will have an immense impact on jobs.
According to the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report 2020, the adoption of cloud computing, big data, and e-commerce remain high priorities for business leaders, following a trend established in previous years.
And although there has also been a significant rise in interest for encryption, non-humanoid robots, and artificial intelligence, considerable workers will not survive the axe.
On the flipside, the technology that will usurp human skills will also create new opportunities for a lucky lot.
43 per cent of businesses surveyed indicate that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration. 41 per cent plan to expand their use of contractors for task-specialized work, and 34 per cent plan to expand their workforce due to technology integration.
“By 2025, the time spent on current tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal. A significant share of companies also expect to make changes to locations, their value chains, and the size of their workforce due to factors beyond technology in the next five years,” the report says.
People-centric skills will be coming to the fore, with analytical thinking and innovation, active learning and learning technologies, complex problem-solving, and critical thinking and analysis among the top skills of 2025.
The rate of automation is set to shift from 67 per cent human labour to 53 per cent in the next five years, seeing machines take up 47 per cent of work up from the current 33 per cent.
In the same period, 97 million jobs will be created in the fields of data analysis, AI and machine learning, digital marketing, and strategy, big data, software, and application development, among others.
85 million jobs are expected to be lost. Affected persons include data entry clerks, administrative and executive secretaries, accountants, and editors, and factory workers, among others.
Employers expect that by 2025, increasingly redundant roles will decline from 15.4 per cent of the workforce to 9 per cent (6.4 per cent decline) and that emerging professions will grow from 7.8 per cent to 13.5 per cent (5.7 per cent growth) of the total employee base of company respondents.
On average, companies estimate that around 40 per cent of workers will require reskilling of six months or less and 94 per cent of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65 per cent in 2018.
“The future of work has already arrived for a large majority of the online white-collar workforce. 84 per cent of employers are set to rapidly digitalize working processes, including a significant expansion of remote work—with the potential to move 44 per cent of their workforce to operate remotely. To address concerns about productivity and well-being, about one-third of all employers expect to also take steps to create a sense of community, connection, and belonging among employees through digital tools, and to tackle the well-being challenges posed by the shift to remote work,” the report says.
In the absence of proactive efforts, inequality is likely to be exacerbated by the dual impact of technology and the pandemic recession.
Jobs held by lower-wage workers, women, and younger workers were more deeply impacted in the first phase of the economic contraction.
“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,” the report reads.
“During May and June, economies resumed some in-person business operations—yet limitations to the physical operation of business continue, geographic mobility between countries persist and the consumption patterns of individuals have been dramatically altered. By late June 2020, about 5 per cent of countries globally still mandated a full closure of in-person business operations, and only about 23 per cent of countries were fully back to open.”
The report also notes that online learning and training is on the rise but looks different for those in employment and those who are unemployed.
There has been a four-fold increase in the numbers of individuals seeking out opportunities for learning online through their initiative, a five-fold increase in employer provision of online learning opportunities to their workers, and a nine-fold enrolment increase for learners accessing online learning through government programmes.
Those in employment are placing a larger emphasis on personal development courses, which have seen 88 per cent growth among that population. Those who are unemployed have placed greater emphasis on learning digital skills such as data analysis, computer science, and information technology.
The window of opportunity to reskill and upskill workers has become shorter in the newly constrained labour market. This applies to workers who are likely to stay in their roles as well as those who risk losing their roles due to rising recession-related unemployment and can no longer expect to retrain at work. For those workers set to remain in their roles, the share of core skills that will change in the next five years is 40 per cent, and 50 per cent of all employees will need reskilling.
Despite the current economic downturn, the large majority of employers recognize the value of the human capital investment.
An average of 66 per cent of employers surveyed expect to get a return on investment in upskilling and reskilling within one year. However, it is feared that this time horizon will be too long for many employers in the context of the current economic shock, and nearly 17 per cent remain uncertain on having any return on their investment. On average, employers expect to offer reskilling and upskilling to just over 70 per cent of their employees by 2025. However, employee engagement in those courses is lagging, with only 42 per cent of employees taking up employer-supported reskilling and upskilling opportunities.
Companies need to invest in better metrics of human and social capital through the adoption of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics and matched with renewed measures of human capital accounting.
A significant number of business leaders understand that reskilling employees, particularly in industry coalitions and in public-private collaborations, is both cost-effective and has significant mid- to long-term dividends—not only for their enterprise but also for the benefit of society more broadly.
“Companies hope to internally redeploy nearly 50 per cent of workers displaced by technological automation and augmentation, as opposed to making wider use of layoffs and automation-based labour savings as a core workforce strategy”.