Machines will do more tasks than humans by 2025: report

The world is going through a workplace revolution that will bring a seismic shift in the way humans work alongside machines and algorithms, according to new research by the World Economic Forum.

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By 2025 more than half of all current workplace tasks will be performed by machines as opposed to 29% today. Such a transformation will have a profound effect on the global labor force, however in terms of overall numbers of new jobs the outlook is positive, with 133 million new jobs expected to be created by 2022 compared to 75 million that will be displaced.

The research, published in The Future of Jobs 2018, is an attempt to understand the potential of new technologies to disrupt and create jobs. It seeks to provide guidance on how to improve the quality and productivity of the current work being done by humans and how to prepare people for emerging roles.

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 found 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 report presented a vision of a future global workforce that provides grounds for both optimism and caution. Compared to a similar study by the Forum in 2016 to understand the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on jobs, the outlook for job creation today is much more positive as businesses have a much greater understanding of the opportunities made available by technology.

At the same time, the huge disruption automation will bring to the global labor force is almost certain to bring with it significant shifts in the quality, location, format and permanency of roles that will require close attention from leaders in the public and private sector.

“It is critical that business take an active role in supporting their existing workforces through reskilling and upskilling, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning, and that governments create an enabling environment to facilitate this workforce transformation. This is the key challenge of our time,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

Among the set of roles set to experience increasing demand across all industries are data analysts and scientists, software and applications developers, and ecommerce and social media specialists, all of which roles that are significantly based on or enhanced by technology.

Roles that leverage distinctly ‘human skills,’ such as sales and marketing professions, innovation managers and customer service workers, are also set to experience increasing demand. Jobs expected to become redundant include routine-based white-collar roles, such as data entry clerks, accounting and payroll clerks.

Jobs Outlook 2022

Within the set of companies surveyed, respondents predicted a decline of 984,000 jobs and a gain of 1.74 million jobs between now and 2022. Extrapolating these trends across those employed by large firms in the non-agricultural workforce of the 20 economies covered by the report suggests that 75 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms, while 133 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to this new division of labor.

Workers will require new sets of skills as the division of labor between humans and machines continues to evolve. Surveyed companies report that today, 71% of total current task hours are performed by humans, compared to 29% by machines. By 2022, this average is expected to shift to 58% task hours performed by humans, 42% by machines.

Change Management Strategies

All industries expect to have sizeable skills gaps, with average skills instability of 42%, highlighting the scale of the challenge in preparing today’s workers for changes within their current roles and the emerging jobs of the future. Technology proficiency, such as technology design and programming, and distinctly human skills, such as creativity, critical thinking and persuasion, are among the competences that will be sharply increasing in importance.

“Companies need to complement their automation plans with comprehensive augmentation strategies. For businesses to remain dynamic, differentiated and competitive in an age of machines, they must in fact invest in their human capital. There is both a moral and economic imperative to do so. Without proactive approaches, businesses and workers may lose out on the economic potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said Saadia Zahidi, head of the Center for the New Economy and Society at the World Economic Forum.

An augmentation strategy takes into account the broader spectrum of value-creating activities that can be accomplished by workers, machines and algorithms in tandem. Fulfilling this potential will require workers to have the appropriate skills for the workplace of the future, and will require business and policymakers to lead complementary and coordinated efforts to invest in human capital.

Respondents reported three main strategies for coping with the challenges of the new world of work: hire wholly new permanent staff with the skills relevant to new technologies; automate work tasks completely; and retrain existing employees. A smaller but significant number of companies expect to allocate the work to specialist contractors, freelancers and temporary workers.

While large-scale, multistakeholder action will be needed to tackle existing and impending skills needs, 85% of companies reported that they plan to rely mainly on internal specialized departments within their organization to provide reskilling opportunities, compared to half expecting to work with public education institutions. Only 34% of the training to be delivered directly by employers is expected to result in an accreditation recognized outside of the company in question.

These findings highlight both the future role of companies as learning organizations and the range of untapped reskilling and upskilling collaboration opportunities.

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