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For years, the technological changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have ushered us closer and closer to the future of employment, as emerging technologies automate work processes in some roles and industries and create new opportunities in others. The COVID-19 pandemic has sped up the transformation.

The future of jobs is almost here. COVID-19 has upended economic activity around the world, causing spikes in unemployment in many countries and deepening inequalities across economies and societies. To put it into historical context, the pandemic has destroyed more jobs in two months than the Great Recession in the United States did in two years.

The just released World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report found that more than 80% of employers expect to make wider use of remote work and to digitize working processes. About half of all employers are also preparing to automate some jobs. Unless more is done to invest in job growth and industries, we may be heading for a jobless recovery. Data shows that those who are currently being displaced from the labor market are on average more likely to be female, younger and have a lower wage.

Now in its third edition, the report finds that job creation will continue to outpace job destruction, but the rate of job creation is slowing down while the rate of job destruction is speeding up. More than 85 million jobs in medium and large businesses will likely be displaced across 15 industries and 26 countries by 2025. In just five years, the amount of time spent on tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal.

At the same time, by 2025, the world could see the emergence of 97 million new roles that are adapted to the new division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms in emerging industries, such as data and AI, as well as sales, marketing and content roles.

The workplace itself is changing, as well, with a rise in remote working necessitated by the spread of COVID-19. Employers hope to enable remote work across 44% of their workforce. But data shows that invariably not all workers can work remotely and the possibility varies according to a countries’ income level and scale of digital penetration. The future of work is likely to be underpinned by hybrid working approaches. While this emerging marketplace for remote and hybrid work offers potential to redefine what it means to work, it largely pertains to the online, white-collar workforce who have internet access and the ability to perform jobs from home.

In the face of these unprecedented shocks and underlying long-term structural shifts, government and business leaders must take immediate action to support those who are out of work now or are likely to be most affected by these trends in the future.

The double disruption of automation and the pandemic has made it painfully clear: We cannot afford to wait any longer for a reskilling revolution.

The Future of Jobs Survey data shows that nearly half of all workers will need reskilling, up 4% compared to last year. Employers are increasingly recognizing the value of investing in their employees’ skill development — an average of 66% of those surveyed said they expect to see a return in investment in reskilling and upskilling within a year. These efforts are also increasingly moving to online platforms, suggesting a significant shift to digital-first learning.

A series of interconnected approaches can support workers.

First, we must protect workers during times of transition while also proactively creating the jobs of tomorrow. Governments must ensure there are adequate social safety nets to protect unemployed workers and deploy these safety nets precisely. They must also support investments into the markets of tomorrow that benefit society, including those such as EdTech, the care economy and the green economy, which also create new jobs.

Second, we must invest in midcareer job transitions and reskilling, upskilling and training programs. Businesses and governments need to work together to help people transition to the jobs of tomorrow by agreeing on new approaches to hiring for skills and potential rather than degrees, co-funding training programs and deploying online learning to support workers. The Reskilling Revolution platform, launched in January 2020, aims to provide better education skills and jobs to 1 billion people by 2030.

Third, we must redefine business priorities and practices to address the rising global threats of climate change and social inequality. Environmental, social and governance issues must be at the core of business decisions. Among the core metrics that can help focus businesses towards a sound future of jobs are the hours of training undertaken by employees, average training investments made by companies and keeping track of pay inequities.

And finally, such efforts must ensure the well-being of employees. COVID-19 has caused a myriad of stresses to life, heath and overall wellness, from the threats of the virus to the demands of caregiving. New data from the report shows that about 78% of employers think that the current models of remote work, in which people are also dealing with these additional stresses, could hurt productivity. More than 34% surveyed said they are looking to build on practices that support an increased sense of community and communication.

COVID-19 has presented us the opportunity and responsibility to pursue a great reset of work. It is estimated that up to 115 million people could fall into extreme poverty in 2020 as a result of this recession, and millions more could see their livelihoods disrupted. We owe it to all of them to act now.

 

Saadia Zahidi is managing director of the World Economic Forum.

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