Often, job loss prediction dominates the discussion of the future of work. The future of work is not only relevant to a number of jobs but also types. Moreover, task content in jobs has already been changing. The assistive role of technology or needed interface with machines in performing those tasks is also on the motion.
Further, technology is automating as well as creating certain tasks. In some instances, the emergence of new technology core also makes certain tasks completely irrelevant. In addition to it, demography change will transform the demand for goods and services, thereby changing the future of work. On the other hand, the sustainable development agenda and the recent trend of localization are changing the task supply and distribution. Subsequently, there will be a changing need for knowledge, skills, and education and training to build them. In a nutshell, a few megatrends are shaping the future of work.
Job loss predictions: what are megatrends shaping the future of work
According to MGI, we will experience 800 million job losses globally by 2030. The same study also estimates that new jobs will also be created. For example, MGI predicts that 250 million to 280 million new jobs could be created from the impact of rising incomes on consumer goods alone. On top of it, an additional 50 million to 85 million jobs will come up from higher health and education spending. On the other hand, World Economic Forum estimates that five years from now, over one-third of skills, 35% to be specific, that are considered necessary in today’s workforce will have changed. A study released by WEF also refers to a popular estimate, “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.” Why will they face such a large shift should have some underlying reasons.
Moreover, neither job creation and job loss, nor skill requirements for qualifying for jobs will be uniform. The effect will likely be highly polarized. For example, the middle layer of corporate America is already hollowing out. On the other hand, the innovation of labor-saving technology in the form of automation and robotics will create jobs in high-income countries. But due to the import of these technologies, developing countries will suffer from job loss. On top of it, not all jobs in different countries are equally amenable to automation. Therefore, to draw insights, the focus should be on the underlying megatrends affecting the nature of transformation. WEF is also promoting the ten most important skills. Why are those skills important, for whom? Does it mean that everyone should be focusing on them equally? Hence, we should look into underlying megatrends shaping the future of work.
Praxis to getting jobs done better
The underlying cause of the job loss and prediction estimate has been human beings’ inherent urge to get jobs done better. Carl Marx observed it as praxis in ancient philosophical writings. Human beings have an inborn relentless urge to recreate products and systems to get their purposes served better. The transformation of getting jobs done with changing means, whether products or systems, will keep changing tasks and the role of humans. As a result, job creation and loss are simply two sides of the coin—praxis. The challenge is to know how will transformation likely happen so that we can prepare to leverage the unfolding opportunities and cope up with the change as painlessly as possible.
Technology and innovation—a megatrend in creating high paying R&D jobs
Technology is transforming jobs. The invention and advancement of technology also create jobs. There has been a growing trend of job creation in this area. For example, a significant portion of the venture capital fund is for creating high-paying R&D jobs. On the one hand, there has been an increasing temptation to create new opportunities out of technology and innovation. On the other hand, R&D productivity is falling. As a result, there has been growing R&D jobs, as observed by a study, “The economy has to double its research efforts every 13 years just to maintain the same overall rate of economic growth.”
On the one hand, venture capital fund is increasing, reaching over $250 billion in 2018. On the other hand, China and some other countries are accelerating R&D investment. It’s expected that with the given competition space and increasing the scope of innovation from technology, R&D jobs will keep growing. In some instances, an attempt to automate even a single occupation may lead to thousands of R&D job creation. For example, autonomous vehicle R&D has so far consumed more than $80 billion. A major portion of this money has gone for creating high-paying jobs.
Automation and Robotics
Automation and robotics are targeting codified knowledge and skills first. Upon making some progress, experience earned tacit knowledge and skill are now target for automation. But machine designers are finding it extremely difficult to automate tasks that require high-intensity innate abilities. Therefore, in operational jobs, there will be a decreasing demand for codified knowledge and skill. Moreover, experience-based career or income growth will also suffer, as innovators will develop an autonomous capability to execute them.
However, jobs involving tasks requiring high-level innate abilities, and also the role of hands, will be posing significant barriers to robots to take over them. As a result, low-skilled jobs at the bottom layer, requiring mostly innate abilities, will be quite immune. For example, although it’s quite easy to automate hard-earned knowledge of how to solve mathematical equations, it’s a tough call to automate the innate abilities of drivers to make autonomous vehicles.
Similarly, many tasks having a high role of hands, particularly in delivering services, will show a high-level barrier to robots to take over. Although modern humanoids like Robot Sophia or ASIMO talk, look like humans but look at their hands. Their hands are profoundly incapable of showing the performance of a 3-year-old. In developing robots’ hands, our progress over the last 300 years is quite unimpressive. Moreover, recent progress is far from showing exponential growth. Hence, primitive hands of robots will slow down the automation of many jobs, comprising tasks requiring the high-level engagement of hands. Even we should draw a lesson from dead robots.
Demography is showing megatrend shaping the future of work
The growing elderly population is increasing the demand for robots and automation in many advanced countries. Even China is desperately after robots to replace aging factory workers. Such a trend will also create pressure on other countries to accelerate robot adoption. On the one hand, there will be increasing jobs for developing, manufacturing, programming, installing, and repairing robots. There will also be jobs for reengineering workspaces and products to make them robot-friendly.
Moreover, the growing elderly population will be creating demand for certain types of products. For example, requests for wheelchairs and remote assistance to maneuver with them will likely be on the rise. On the other hand, due to the high need for innate ability, elderly care services will be showing quite an impediment to automation. For example, Honda has already stopped further R&D on making ASIMO eligible for elderly care service delivery jobs.
The sustainable development agenda will be pushing for greener energy, less wastage, and safer roads, among other objectives. As a result, the oil economy will go through a transformation, resulting in the demand and nature of jobs. The uprising of electric vehicles will significantly impact both the number and type of jobs across the value chain. Similarly, the realization of connected, subsequently autonomous vehicles will lead to significant transformation. Increasing yield in food production and reducing the wastage of farming inputs will lead to the increasing adoption of robots on the ground and in the air. Hence, both the number and type of jobs in farming will go through a major transformation.
Localized production megatrend will lead to shaping the future of work
Due to the political and COVID situation, the global value chain will likely go through restructuring. Many countries will likely provide incentives to increase local production for domestic consumption. The US-China trade dispute will also lead to the relocation of some production plants. As a result, the global distribution of productive tasks will transform, which will lead to changing the future of work scenarios. Moreover, increasing labor-saving trends due to robotics and automation will lead to reshoring some export-oriented manufacturing operations in developing countries.
Hence, the future of work will be reshaped by multiple forces with high-level polarization effects at different levels. To leverage the opportunity and cope up with the change, we need to have a very detailed ongoing investigation targeting each of the significant megatrends shaping the future of work.