As we start 2021, COVID-19 is still with us, along with the many changes it has prompted in the way we do things. Many parents are still working from home, as children are also learning from home. Public transportation is still limited, and people are still encouraged to just stay home unless in need of essential goods or services. Many places and businesses have remained closed.
The focus now is on the acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines, with the national government as well as numerous local governments all looking for ways and means to bring them in. But given financial and logistical concerns, at best, a semblance of a mass vaccination program will probably start only towards the end of the year. Meantime, life goes on for many of us.
What the future holds, nobody really knows. But, judging from what has occurred so far, and the possibility of other pandemics in the future, it is interesting how some analysts now view the future of work. I came across recently a blog published by the International Monetary Fund, which highlighted The Jobs of Tomorrow report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Presented by Saadia Zahidi, managing director at WEF and head of its Center for the New Economy and Society, the report discussed what jobs will emerge and which ones will go in the future, in light of the “effect of pandemic-related disruptions placed in the broader context of longer-term technology trends.”
The report “maps the jobs and skills of the future, tracking the pace of change based on surveys of business leaders and human resource strategists from around the world,” Its five key findings for its Winter 2020 report were as follows:
• The workforce is automating faster than expected, displacing 85 million jobs in the next five years.
• The robot revolution will create 97 million new jobs.
• In 2025, analytical thinking, creativity, and flexibility will be among the most sought-after skills.
• The most competitive businesses will focus on upgrading their workers’ skills.
• Remote work is here to stay.
The report forecasts increasing demand for data analysts and scientists, AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning specialists, big data specialists, digital marketing and strategy specialists, and process automation specialists. Decreasing demand is seen for data entry clerks, administrative and executive secretaries, accounting and bookkeeping and payroll clerks, accountants and auditors, and assembly and factory workers.
“Automation, in tandem with the COVID-19 recession, is creating a ‘double-disruption’ scenario for workers. Companies’ adoption of technology will transform tasks, jobs, and skills by 2025… Five years from now, employers will divide work between humans and machines roughly equally,” the report says. It notes that businesses are set to reduce their workforce because of technology integration and expand their use of contractors for task-specialized work.
The WEF report also says “new roles will emerge across the care economy in technology fields and in content creation careers. The emerging professions reflect the greater demand for green economy jobs; roles at the forefront of the data and AI economy; and new roles in engineering, cloud computing, and product development.”
It adds, “The up-and-coming jobs highlight the continuing importance of human interaction in the new economy through roles in the care economy; in marketing, sales, and content production; and in roles that depend on the ability to work with different types of people from different backgrounds.”
Of course, one can only wonder whether these forecasts will actually come through. After all, COVID-19 has taught us that the world can suddenly change, practically overnight. And there is no telling if another pandemic, or similar world-changing event, will hit us again in the next few years. However, there are signs that changes to the workforce are inevitable.
Based on WEF’s survey of businesses, an overwhelming majority says they are “set to rapidly digitalize work processes, including a significant expansion of remote working,” and that there is “potential to move 44% of their workforce to operate remotely.” But most businesses are also bracing for negative impact on worker productivity, and will thus help workers adapt.
WEF also says the “relative importance of skills sets is evolving,” and that employers are seen to favor or prioritize critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving, self-management, and technology use and development over physical abilities, core literacies, and management and communication of activities.
WEF also notes that even in past surveys, employers already noted the “growing importance” of critical thinking, analysis, and problem-solving. But now, they also see the significance of “self-management, active learning, resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility.” Ever-changing and dynamic business conditions are obviously driving these changes in skill sets.
What is crucial, moving forward, is how businesses — and perhaps government — can help people adapt to these changes and capably address the needs and demands of the times. As WEF notes, businesses must invest in upgrading their people’s skills if they wish to remain competitive. The report notes that “for workers set to remain in their roles over the next five years, nearly half will need retraining for their core skills.”
“The public sector [also] needs to provide stronger support for reskilling and upskilling of at-risk or displaced workers… [It] must provide incentives for investment in the markets and jobs of tomorrow, offer stronger safety nets for displaced workers during job transitions, and tackle long-delayed improvements of education and training systems,” WEF adds.
This, I believe, is something that policy makers should start looking into urgently. What we have programmed thus far may not be enough. While we can pour more public money into reskilling, perhaps it will be more practical for the state to instead incentivize businesses to invest in reskilling their people, and to put more capital into the education and training of people for the jobs of tomorrow.
Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council