Wake-up call: The World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs” Report

Hi Future Fans,

Wow, where to start? The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released their latest report around the future of jobs, looking at the relatively short time frame of 2018-2022. It’s rather dense and also truly critical for any business leader, parent, or worker to understand. In this post I’ll aim to summarise some of the central information and themes.

For context, the report is based in the idea that we are in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres; think nanotechnology, robotics, AI, quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, ubiquitous connectivity, etc.

The key aspect of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that it’s evolving at an exponential pace and the speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. These advancements are the topics that I regularly cover here at Futurist.tech.

Further reading around the Fourth Industrial Revolution (and the source of some of the above text) is available here and here.

The main considerations in the WEF report are:
  • Overall, over 2018-2022, jobs may increase rather than decrease
  • There will be rapid shifts in the types of jobs and skills that are needed by the market
  • There is a very large re-training requirement across the workforce
In addition, I found these items to be particularly telling:
  • The percentage of work done by humans vs machines is shifting quickly
  • Skills shortages will drive a more geographically distributed workforce

Drilling into each of these, let’s start with the overall job pool, which may in fact grow over the next 5 years despite heavy automation. That’s going to surprise many people, as the usual argument is that automation will destroy jobs. I have included more detail on in-demand jobs at the end of this post for those who are interested, and here is a quick summary graphic.

jobs landscape.png

Transitioning this volume of jobs is going to require adaptation at scale, however, and that is the central caveat that we must consider.

We will also see shifts in the demand for specific skills; many people will find that only particular components of their skill base and jobs are impacted. There is a clear trend towards increased demand for complex critical thinking and creativity, and declining demand for repetitive or high endurance labour, memory-based tasks, basic management tasks, etc.

WEF skills table

This mass change in required skills and jobs necessarily tells us that mass re-training is required. Some of this needs to be via active corporate programs, some by governments, and some by individual effort towards re-skilling and ‘lifelong learning’. Lifelong learning is increasingly important as we move into the future. The world will be moving so fast that the shelf-life of existing skills will become shorter & shorter. Being able to move fluidly into new knowledge areas will be crucial.

“By 2022, no less than 54% of all employees will require significant re- and upskilling.”

For those people in roles that are strongly impacted by the shifting landscape, the report estimates a need for 80-100 days of (re)training per person. That is significant and requires focus. I fear that many people will not be able to adapt at this pace.

Beyond the human component, I have speculated many times in the past about the increasing percentage of work and ‘decisions’ made by machines vs humans. The report gives us some insights into how quickly this might occur. The summary is that, in 2018, we see 29% of ‘task hours’ being done by machines. That is predicted to rise towards 42% of all task hours being done by machines in 2022.

WEF Human vs Machines

Shifting 13% of total work over 5 years is a rapid pace, and presumably the percentage of work done by machines will continue to rise via both AI and robotics. This actually has some remarkable geopolitical implications (that are not discussed in the report); we see India and China rising rapidly, fueled by the increasing productivity & wealth of 1.3 billion+ populations. In a future world of 90%+ of work being completed by machines, the underlying population density ceases to be a key driver of wealth. The winners will be those that are able to deploy and leverage suitable machines.

The other hidden gem in this report is around employee locations. It’s clear that there will be certain skills that will be heavily in demand. For these skills, companies are willing to overlook geographical location. In combination with the imminent arrival of global Internet coverage (via satellite networks, google’s balloons, etc), it continues to suggest a trend that I’ve highlighted previously; I expect that our populations will disperse more widely beyond cities and even into relatively remote locales, given the lessening need to be near a workplace and also the increasing expense of comfortable urban living. From an employer perspective, leaning into remote collaboration technology will be important.

WEF employee locations

Hopefully this summary and commentary has been helpful. The full report is available here for those of you wanting to see the full content.

The single largest takeaway is that standing still is a losing strategy. Whether you’re an individual, corporation, or country, active adaptation is needed to avoid becoming irrelevant and also to harness the immense and fast-paced emerging opportunities. The report only spans a period of 5 years and, as always, we must consider what happens over 8, 12, 20 years. The change will accelerate and it’s imperative to get on top of that wave as early as possible.

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Here is further detail on the jobs that are due to see increased demand, for those of you that are interested to know more:

“Among the range of established roles that are set to experience increasing demand in the period up to 2022 are Data Analysts and Scientists, Software and Applications Developers, and Ecommerce and Social Media Specialists, roles that are significantly based on and enhanced by the use of technology. Also expected to grow are roles that leverage distinctively ‘human’ skills, such as Customer Service Workers, Sales and Marketing Professionals, Training and Development, People and Culture, and Organizational Development Specialists as well as Innovation Managers. Moreover, our analysis finds extensive evidence of accelerating demand for a variety of wholly new specialist roles related to understanding and leveraging the latest emerging technologies: AI and Machine Learning Specialists, Big Data Specialists, Process Automation Experts, Information Security Analysts, User Experience and Human-Machine Interaction Designers, Robotics Engineers, and Blockchain Specialists”

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