The Future of Jobs 2018, a new report from the World Economic Forum, includes the organization’s latest forecast of how automation will reshape the future of work. As soon as 2025, the report predicts, more than half of “all current workplace tasks” will be performed by machines, up from 29 percent today. That doesn’t mean the world is facing the mass displacement of human workers by machines: The report predicts that automation will create 133 million new jobs by 2022 even as it destroys 75 million. It does mean, however, that employers and governments need to be proactive in readying the workforce to perform the higher-skill jobs AI, robotics, and other emerging technologies will create, according to a statement from the WEF:
Based on a survey of chief human resources officers and top strategy executives from companies across 12 industries and 20 developed and emerging economies (which collectively account for 70% of global GDP), the report finds that 54% of employees of large companies would need significant re- and up-skilling in order to fully harness the growth opportunities offered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. At the same time, just over half of the companies surveyed said they planned to reskill only those employees that are in key roles while only one third planned to reskill at-risk workers.
While nearly 50% of all companies expect their full-time workforce to shrink by 2022 as a result of automation, almost 40% expect to extend their workforce generally and more than a quarter expect automation to create new roles in their enterprise.
The WEF reached its headline figures by extrapolating from the companies it surveyed, where executives predicted a decline of 984,000 jobs and a gain of 1.74 million jobs between now and 2022. The report also finds that all industries are facing significant skills gaps, with regard to both technical skills and “distinctly human skills, such as creativity, critical thinking and persuasion.” Reskilling and upskilling the workforce for this change is “the key challenge of our time,” WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab said in the statement.
The US Department of Labor announced last week that it was making available $100 million in “Trade and Economic Transition National Dislocated Worker Grants,” which will fund training and career services programs for workers affected by “major economic dislocations.” These grants will be disbursed to states, outlying areas, local workforce development boards, and other entities, by the department’s Employment and Training Administration, and are meant to address a variety of workforce challenges, including:
- The economic and workforce impacts associated with job loss or employer/industrial reorganization due to trade or automation;
- The loss, significant decline, or major structural change/reorganization of a primary or legacy industry, such as a manufacturing downturn due to technological advances, including impacts on the agricultural industry due to trade or other economic trends;
- Other economic transition or stagnation that may disproportionately impact mature workers, putting them at risk for extended unemployment, lower wages, and underemployment.
Applications for grants are due by September 7, and the administration plans to begin awarding funds by September 30. It will continue to fund qualifying applications in the order they are received until all of the allocated funds are spent.
This is the first major initiative from the Trump administration focused on protecting the workforce from automation-related displacement. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took criticism last year when he downplayed the potential impact of automation on job loss, arguing that technological displacement would not be an issue for another 50 years or more.
The Swiss staffing company Adecco has made a deal to acquire the New York-based coding bootcamp and education technology startup General Assembly for $413 million, Axios’s Dan Primack reported on Monday. The acquisition reflects the evolution of GA’s business, which is increasingly focused on enterprise customers rather than individuals:
A majority of GA’s revenue by year-end is expected to be business-to-business, whereas it was only 15% two years ago. Most of that is in terms of re-skilling workers, including a “talent pipeline as-a-service” business whereby GA acts not only as a recruiter, but also as a trainer (with hiring companies paying the freight).
GA will continue to operate as an independent division under the umbrella of Adecco Group, co-founder and CEO Jake Schwartz said in a statement. Schwartz will remain at the helm of the company, reporting to Sergio Picarelli on Adecco’s executive committee, Jonathan Shieber adds at TechCrunch.
Joining the European conglomerate is “not an ignominious outcome for General Assembly,” Shieber comments, “but not the exit that many in the New York tech ecosystem had hoped for”:
The saying that every company is now a technology company, in that every organization needs digital talent, has become a cliché among contemporary management gurus. Less often discussed, however, is the need for employees in roles that are not explicitly technical to also develop a level of technological expertise. While engineering, cloud computing, and cybersecurity skills are highly coveted, simply having the ability to work with and understand enterprise technology is almost as valuable, given that technology appears destined to transform nearly every role in the organization—if it hasn’t already.
In LinkedIn’s most recent survey, the most in-demand skills for 2018 are predominantly technical, 57 percent of the leaders surveyed said soft skills like leadership, communication, and strategic thinking were more important than hard skills. LinkedIn’s list of this year’s most promising jobs illustrate that point, as several among the top ten—Engagement Lead, Customer Success Manager, Sales Director, Program and Product Manager, and Enterprise Account Manager—are roles that require those soft skills as well as a familiarity with technology. Likewise, tech-specific roles like data scientist and DevOps engineer were high up on Glassdoor’s list of the best jobs in the US this year, but managerial and business operations roles also made up a large portion of the top 50.
In other words, technical specialists may be some of the hottest talent on the market, but it takes an army to enable that talent to generate business value—whether by interpreting data, bringing technologies to market, keeping a project on course, servicing clients, or finding new ones. All of these employees now require some digital skills, but not the same skills software engineers and data analysts need.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai made a similar argument in an op-ed published at NBC News last week, noting that “the focus on code has left a potentially bigger opportunity largely unexplored.” Pichai points to a recent Brookings Institution report finding that jobs requiring “medium-digital” skills had grown to nearly half of all available jobs in 2016:
When it comes to the threat or promise of automation, experts are divided as to whether AI and robotics will eliminate jobs en masse or merely automate rote tasks and free up more of workers’ time for innovation and creativity. McKinsey has put out some interesting research throughout the year in which they attempt to forecast the impact of these new technologies on the workforce. In January, they released the attention-grabbing headline finding that half of the work currently performed by humans could be automated with already-existing technology. Though fewer than 5 percent of jobs can be automated entirely, their research found, most jobs could have at least one third of their component tasks automated today.
In an update to that work published this week, McKinsey takes a closer look at the various factors that will drive automation in the coming decades—such as technical feasibility, cost of deployment, and labor market considerations—and concludes that “between almost zero and 30 percent of the hours worked globally could be automated by 2030, depending on the speed of adoption.” The effects will not, however, be evenly distributed among occupations:
Activities most susceptible to automation include physical ones in predictable environments, such as operating machinery and preparing fast food. Collecting and processing data are two other categories of activities that increasingly can be done better and faster with machines. This could displace large amounts of labor—for instance, in mortgage origination, paralegal work, accounting, and back-office transaction processing. … Automation will have a lesser effect on jobs that involve managing people, applying expertise, and social interactions, where machines are unable to match human performance for now.
The annual Freelancing in America survey, released this week by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, paints a picture of a freelance workforce that is growing much faster than the US workforce in general. The report estimates the total number of US freelancers today at 57.3 million, or 36 percent of the total American workforce. That number has grown more than three times faster than the overall workforce in the past three years, and if this rate of change holds, freelancers are projected to compose a majority of the US workforce by 2027. Millennials are leading the trend in this direction, with 47 percent of millennial workers saying they freelanced.
The survey of over 6,000 US adults also finds that freelancers are doing better than their traditionally employed peers at preparing themselves for their professional futures: 55 percent of freelancers said they had engaged in some kind of re-skilling activity in the past six months, compared to 30 percent of regular workers. In general, 65 percent of freelancers said they were updating their skills as work evolved, while just 45 percent of others said so.
Freelancers are also feeling the impact of technological change more acutely, with 49 percent saying their work had already been affected by AI and robotics, against just 18 percent of full-time employees. At the same time, technology is also bringing them more work, with 71 percent saying the amount of work they had found online had increased in the past year.
Another interesting finding is that while many people lump freelancers in with the gig economy, freelancers don’t: Only 10 percent of freelancers in the survey said they considered themselves a part of that economy. Indeed, we’ve seen from other research that the gig economy, properly speaking—meaning workers who make a living through platforms like Uber—is just one component of the new trend toward contingent and temporary employment in the US labor market. Fast Company’s Ruth Reader considers why freelancers might be rejecting the “gig economy” label: