THE BAD NEWS IS MACHINES WILL SOON TAKE MORE THAN HALF OUR JOBS. The good news is there will be more than enough new work to keep us all employed. That’s how the World Economic Forum (WEF) sees our future.
It’s all part of what WEF officials call the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Their recent “Future of Jobs 2018” study sets out what they think the size and shape of that revolution will be like.
The WEF study estimates that machines will be responsible for 52 percent of the division of labor as share of hours by 2025. But, it also estimates that what we lose on the apples we will more than gain on the oranges.
That is: while machines will likely eliminate roughly 75 million old-tech jobs in the next four years, 133 new-tech jobs will be created.
“By 2025, the majority of workplace tasks in existence today will be performed by machines or algorithms. At the same time a greater number of new jobs will be created,” said Saadia Zahidi, a WEF board member.
“Our research suggests that neither businesses nor governments have fully grasped the size of this key challenge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
The WEF study is based on a survey of executives representing 15 million employees in 20 economies. Its authors say the outlook for job creation has become more positive since the last report in 2016 because businesses have a better sense of the opportunities made possible by technology.
Unprepared for a whole new world of work
The two great unanswered questions as we face up to this reality are:
 How will workers take to re-training and training for work they never dreamed of doing or of wanting to do?
 Will employers be ready, willing and able to provide that training?
The findings in the WEF study offer no assurance on either count.
The WEF said challenges for employers include enabling remote work, building safety nets to protect workers, and providing reskilling for employees. However, the report found that only one in three employers in the study planned to reskill at-risk workers.
Despite net positive job growth, the WEF anticipates a “significant shift in the quality, location, format and permanency of new roles.” Businesses are to expand use of contractors for task-specialized work, engage workers in more flexible arrangements, utilize remote staffing, and change up locations to get access to the right talent.
The report said nearly half of all companies expect their full-time workforces to shrink by 2022, while nearly two in five expect to extend their workforce generally, and over one-quarter expect automation to create new roles in their enterprises.
Germany’s powerful DGB trade union association warned against too rapid change in the world of work. A union spokesman said it all comes down to: “People, whether they’re workers or consumers, will only accept and tolerate the consequences if technology serves them—and not they it.”
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