May 13

Image: Kevin Ku via Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic will amplify the rate at which technology creates new jobs and eliminates dated ones as the world moves towards increased automation, according to The Future of Jobs Report 2020 published by the World Economic Forum.

On balance, job creation will outpace job destruction through 2025, according to the report. More than 97 million new roles might emerge that are adapted to a new division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms.

The bad news is that the path to these new jobs will be anything but smooth, as more than 85 million jobs in medium and large businesses are projected to be displaced across 15 industries and 26 countries in the same time period. The change is projected to be so large that it may begin to look like the creation and elimination of entire professions rather than jobs. 

“Automation, in tandem with the COVID-19 recession, is creating a ‘double-disruption’ scenario for workers,” according to the report. “In addition to the current disruption from the pandemic-induced lockdowns and economic contraction, technological adoption by companies will transform tasks, jobs and skills by 2025.”

The report is drawn from business leaders – chief executives, chief strategy officers and chief human resources officers – and their decisions on human capital with the latest data from public and private sources. The survey group cited future job creators that include encryption, non-humanoid robots and artificial intelligence, adding to current trends toward increased cloud computing, big data and e-commerce.

Lockdowns and health and safety measures to prevent the coronavirus from spreading have resulted in mass job loss globally. Meanwhile, where possible, employers have sought to continue working safely by switching to options supported by technology and automation.

Forty-three percent of businesses surveyed indicate that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration, while 41% plan to expand their use of contractors for task-specialized work and 34% plan to expand their workforce due to technology integration.

This means that when the pandemic is brought under control and economies recover, workers will likely be returning to a very different job market.

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 future impact of growth from AI was echoed in PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey. A majority of global CEOs who responded to the survey believe AI will have a larger impact than the internet.

Meanwhile, the transformation will hit individuals with lower education levels hardest. This could be particularly troublesome giving the fact the World Bank has warned that the pandemic could increase income inequality and push up to 115 million people into extreme poverty this year.

This may result in governments stepping in to support labor, or even require governments to do it. It may also put increased requirements on businesses to protect employees.

In any case, the trend is already underway. Over the past five years, many professionals who have moved into “emerging roles” in the new economy came from entirely different occupations and different skill backgrounds, according to LinkedIn data. 

Corporations will more frequently ask employees to perform different tasks than those for which they were hired. And professional careers will require more dramatic shifts to evolve with job markets. This will require greater flexibility on the part of employees, including constant investments into upgrading their skills to keep up with the changing job market.

So it seems the adjustments for corona itself may no longer be a dramatic outlier. They may be part of a new dynamic which is quickly becoming the norm in the new economy.

By Dimitri Frolowsckii

Dimitri Frolowsckii is a political analyst and consultant.

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