By DAVID MYTON
It is imperative that governments, academic institutions, businesses and individuals consider how to proactively shape a new, positive future of work rather than give way to inertia and passivity.
So says a recent White Paper from the World Economic Forum report Eight Futures of Work – Scenarios and their Implication examining what the future of work might look like by the year 2030.
The WEF has selected “three core variables” – the rate of technological change and its impact on business models; the evolution of learning among the current and future workforce; and the magnitude of talent mobility across regions – to devise potential scenarios as a basis for discussions, adding “they are not predictions”.
The report notes that developments in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and big data analytics “have displaced whole occupations, shifted the tasks and needed skills within some occupations, and created wholly new tasks and occupations”.
Accelerated technological change and diffusion
The repercussions “of many of these technological developments thus far are already being felt today”, it says.
Accelerated technological change and diffusion means machines in the workplace “have become capable of performing routine and non-routine tasks, and can perform a range of manual tasks as well as those requiring non-cognitive skills,” it says.
However, the lack of appropriate talent for emerging new roles “has led to increasing pressure to automate even further, and robotics, algorithms and machine learning, managed by a few, have begun to do most of the world’s production and distribution.
“Widening talent gaps continue to dampen economic growth as businesses have lost faith in human talent.
“This ‘hollowing out’ of the labour market has led to deep and growing inequalities, polarised values and divided views about technology.”
Large swathes of the workforce “have become increasingly unemployable”.
Polarised values and divided views about technology
The report observes that “polarised values and divided views about technology dominate society …
“High-skilled people from lower-income communities have migrated to high-income, high-skill enclaves, as a cluster of globally-dispersed urban ‘super-economies’ have formed and trade ideas, goods and services with each other.”
Deep concerns “about the disruptive potential of even more rapid technological change” have led to long-overdue reforms in education, and local companies have invested heavily in training systems and re-skilling.
“This has led to a demand for human workers to complement machines, manage the shifts underway and specialise in new kinds of roles.”
A “new ethos for pursuing lifelong learning”, especially among younger generations, has contributed to an increased dynamism in the workforce, and technology is applied broadly, alongside human creativity and productivity, to a range of industries and sectors.
“Many economies that have invested heavily in high-skilled talent are now reluctant to lose it, and have made efforts to resist high levels of migration.”
However, talent shortages continue to impact business growth as companies encounter skills gaps that cannot be met either locally or online.
Rethinking how education is delivered offline and online
It observes that “basic education reform” – from early-childhood, primary and secondary education to vocational training and higher education – “will determine how the next generation of workers will find its place in the future workplace across different scenarios”.
“This will require refreshing curricula to include skills required in the future workforce – both digital as well as ‘human’ skills such as communication, problem-solving, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.
“It will also require rethinking how education is delivered by combining of offline and online methods, professionalizing and enhancing the role of teachers, recognising and accrediting skills and developing better and more inclusive systems for lifelong learning.”
Identifying and supporting growing sectors and occupations will require new thinking and proactive policies and incentives today, it says.
“For example, ‘soft infrastructure’ such as the care economy, education sector and healthcare, are all likely to grow rapidly in advanced and developing economies alike, and require a large influx of talent, building on the comparative advantage of humans and creating an opportunity for good jobs that leverage those skills that have low susceptibility to automation in most scenarios.”
Supporting entrepreneurs, including through better access to markets, finance and skills, “can have significant benefits for economic resilience, innovation and new job creation”.
Tough times ahead – but no Doomsday – for many employees as the world of work continues to change
Despite the many opportunities, much anxiety surrounds the future of work says the OECD in its Employment Outlook 2019 adding that “Doomsday scenarios are unlikely to materialise, but there are some real risks” and the future of work will largely depend on the policy decisions countries make.
Many people are worried the world of work “is heading for a dystopian future of massive technological unemployment, precarious work, workers with little or no bargaining power, and important skills gaps as populations age rapidly”.
While it is true labour markets are already changing, “with the right policies and institutions in place, the opportunities that digitalisation, globalisation and longer lives will bring can be seized, and the risks mitigated.”
However, unless urgent action is taken, the low skilled, workers in jobs at high risk of automation, older adults and displaced workers – workers who have lost their jobs for economic reasons and/or in mass layoffs – are likely to be left behind, it says.