The new labour market taking shape in the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution holds both challenges and opportunities. As companies begin to formulate business transformation and workforce strategies over the course of the 2018–2022 period, they have a genuine window of opportunity to leverage new technologies, including automation, to enhance economic value creation through new activities, improve job quality in traditional and newly emerging occupations, and augment their employees’ skills to reach their full potential to perform new high value-added work tasks, some of which will have never before been performed by human workers. The business case for such an ‘augmentation strategy’ is becoming increasingly clear—and, we expect, will receive progressively more attention over the coming years, including through upcoming work by the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the New Economy and Society.
At the same time, technological change and shifts in job roles and occupational structures are transforming the demand for skills at a faster pace than ever before. Therefore, imperative for achieving such a positive vision of the future of jobs will be an economic and societal move by governments, businesses and individuals towards agile lifelong learning, as well as inclusive strategies and programmes for skills retraining and upgrading across the entire occupational spectrum. Technology-related and non-cognitive soft skills are becoming increasingly more important in tandem, and there are significant opportunities for innovative and creative multistakeholder partnerships of governments, industry employers, education providers and others to experiment and invest in new types of education and training provision that will be most useful to individuals in this new labour market context.
As this new labour market takes shape over the 2018–2022 period, governments, businesses and individuals will also find themselves confronted with a range of wholly new questions. For example, as employment relationships increasingly shift towards temporary and freelancing arrangements, how can we ensure that individuals receive the support and guidance they need to acquire the right skills throughout their working lives? As employers are deconstructing traditional job roles and re-bundling work tasks in response to new technologies, how can they minimize the risks and best leverage new partnerships with resources such as online freelancers and talent platforms?45 And how can they best ensure such task re-bundling does not inadvertently lead to new forms of job polarization through ‘task segregation’, whereby specific groups of workers are disproportionately allocated the most or least rewarding work tasks?46
While it is beyond the scope of this report to attempt to provide comprehensive answers to all of the above questions, a range of immediate implications and priorities stand out for different stakeholders.
For governments, firstly, there is an urgent need to address the impact of new technologies on labour markets through upgraded education policies aimed at rapidly raising education and skills levels of individuals of all ages, particularly with regard to both STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and non-cognitive soft skills, enabling people to leverage their uniquely human capabilities. Relevant intervention points include school curricula, teacher training and a reinvention of vocational training for the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, broadening its appeal beyond traditional low- and medium-skilled occupations.47 Secondly, improvements in education and skills provision must be balanced with efforts on the demand side. Governments can help stimulate job creation through additional public investment as well as by leveraging private investments through blended finance or government guarantees. The exact nature of desirable investments will vary from country to country. However, over the coming years, there is enormous scope and a clear unmet need in creating the hard and soft infrastructure to power the Fourth Industrial Revolution—from digital communication networks to renewable and smart energy grids to smart schools and hospitals to improved care homes and childcare facilities.48 Thirdly, to the extent that new technologies and labour augmentation will boost productivity, incomes and wealth, governments may find that increased tax revenues provide scope to enhance social safety nets to better support those who may need support to adjust to the new labour market. This could be achieved through reforming and extending existing social protection schemes, or through moving to a wholly new model such as the idea of basic income and basic services. Learning from pilot schemes of this kind—in addition to those currently underway in places such as the Netherlands, various American and Canadian states, Kenya, India and Brazil—will be critical for all governments over the course of the 2018–2022 period.49
For industries, firstly, it will pay to realize that—as competition for scarce skilled talent equipped to seize the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution intensifies and becomes more costly over the coming years—there is an opportunity to support the upskilling of their current workforce toward new (and technologically reorganized) higher-skilled roles to ensure that their workforce achieves its full potential. Our findings indicate that, to date, many companies intend to mostly limit their skills training provision over the 2018–2022 period to employees performing today’s in-demand job roles, rather than thinking more long-term and creatively. Clearly, a more inclusive and proactive approach will be needed—to both increase the availability of future skills and address impending skills scarcity, and to enable a wider range of workers to share in the gains from new technologies and work more effectively with them through skills augmentation. Secondly, the need to ensure a sufficient pool of appropriately skilled talent creates an opportunity for businesses to truly reposition themselves as learning organizations and to receive support for their reskilling and upskilling efforts from a wide range of stakeholders. One promising model involves new forms of professional skills certification similar to existing schemes delivered by a range of companies in the information technology sector. By establishing objective and marketable credentials for a large variety of emerging job roles, such schemes could help improve the focus of corporate training programmes, increase labour market flexibility, and create clear skills and performance measures to help employers screen candidates and certified workers to command skills premiums.50 Thirdly, with the increasing importance of talent platforms and online workers, conventional industries, too, should be thinking strategically how these action items could be applied to the growing ‘gig’ and platform workforces as well.51
For workers, there is an unquestionable need to take personal responsibility for one’s own lifelong learning and career development. It is also equally clear that many individuals will need to be supported through periods of job transition and phases of retraining and upskilling by governments and employers. For example, lifelong learning is becoming a rich area of experimentation, with several governments and industries looking for the right formula to encourage individuals to voluntarily undergo periodic skills upgrading.52 Similarly, while a fully-fledged universal basic income may remain politically and economically unfeasible or undesirable over the 2018–2022 period, some variants or aspects of the idea—such as providing a ‘universal lifelong learning fund’ for individuals to draw on as needed—might receive increasing attention over the coming years.53 Solutions are likely to vary by country and to depend on local political, economic and social circumstances.
Ultimately, the core objective for governments, industries and workers alike should be to ensure that tomorrow’s jobs are fairly remunerated, entail treatment with respect and decency and provide realistic scope for personal growth, development and fulfilment.54 It is our hope that this new edition of the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report provides both a call to action and a useful tool for proactively shaping the future of jobs to realize this vision.