Half of all work tasks will be handled by machines by 2025 – but inequality will worsen as a result – according to the World Economic Forum.
The WEF’s latest forecast into the impact of automation said a “robot revolution” would create 97 million jobs worldwide but destroy almost as many.
Its Future of Jobs Report 2020 claims that “employers will divide work between humans and machines equally”, with roles that require human skills rising in demand.
Future workforce planning
The jobs most at threat of being replaced by automation were those in administration and data processing, it said, but there would be a need for new jobs in care, big data and the green economy.
The WEF surveyed 300 of the world’s biggest companies, with more than 8 million employees globally. More than half said they expected to speed up automation for some roles, while 43% thought they would be likely to cut jobs due to technology.
The pandemic has sped up adoption of technologies at many businesses as they look to cut costs and find new ways of working, the research found. This could mean a double threat for workers however – with some potentially facing the threat of job loss from both automation and the economic impact of Covid-19.
“Covid-19 has accelerated the arrival of the future of work,” said Saadia Zahidi, WEF managing director. “Accelerating automation and the fallout from the Covid-19 recession has deepened existing inequalities across labour markets and reversed gains in employment made since the global financial crisis in 2007-2008.
“It’s a double disruption scenario that presents another hurdle for workers in this difficult time. The window of opportunity for proactive management of this change is closing fast. Businesses, governments and workers must plan to urgently work together to implement a new vision for the global workforce.”
Organisations are preparing for the accelerated impact of automation by reskilling their workforce, the WEF advised. Around two-thirds of those surveyed expected a return on investment from upskilling and reskilling current employees within a year. They also expect to be able to redeploy 46% of workers in their own organisations.
“In the future, we will see the most competitive businesses are the ones that have invested heavily in their human capital – the skills and competencies of their employees,” Zahidi added.
Responding to the findings, Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at learning platform company Skillsoft, said there would be profound wider ramifications of digitisation projects.
“More alarming still is the growing concern that people will become increasingly displaced by machines in the workplace,” she said.
“The challenge for employers is to make sure that everyone, regardless of gender, age or location, shares in the spoils of new technology. Instituting lifelong learning for employees that ensures reskilling will prove the answer to tectonic shifts in the job market. Giving workers the opportunity to learn new skills that will increase their ability to shift into new roles.
“Organisations will need to think holistically about managing reskilling, upskilling and job transitioning. In addition to opening up technical training and development to a wider candidate base – including supporting more female employees to development the skills required to fill identified gaps – assessing the digital transformation requirements of the enterprise should help to direct investment priorities for training and development.”