A significant volume of research on the theme of the future of work has emerged since the World Economic Forum published its initial report on the subject—The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution1—at the Forum’s Annual Meeting in January 2016. What the future of work might hold is a concern that resonates broadly and that has fuelled extensive discussion among policy-makers, business leaders and individual workers.2 Over the past few years, academics, think tanks, strategy consultants and policy-makers have debated what the future of work might look like, how it can be productively shaped for the benefit of economies and societies, and the implications of changes to work for individuals, for their livelihoods, and for the youngest generations studying to enter the future workforce.3
Common to these recent debates is an awareness that, as technological breakthroughs rapidly shift the frontier between the work tasks performed by humans and those performed by machines and algorithms, global labour markets are likely to undergo major transformations. These transformations, if managed wisely, could lead to a new age of good work, good jobs and improved quality of life for all, but if managed poorly, pose the risk of widening skills gaps, greater inequality and broader polarization. In many ways, the time to shape the future of work is now.
To support responses to the critical questions confronting businesses, governments and workers over the coming years, and to reassess its 2016 findings, the World Economic Forum has conducted a second iteration of the Future of Jobs Survey. While much valuable analysis has been authored over the past two years by a broad range of analysts and researchers, the debate has often focused on the far-term horizon, looking to the future of work in 2030, 2040 or 2050. Those approaches can be complemented by an operational time horizon—with the potential to hold up a mirror to current practises, to provide an opportunity for leaders to re-asses their current direction and its likely outcomes, and to consider potential adjustments. As forecasts of the extent of structural change across global labour markets depend on taking into consideration the time horizon, this report—and future editions—aim to provide a (rolling) five-year outlook. This edition covers the 2018–2022 period.
A particular focus of this new edition of the report is to arrive at a better understanding of the potential of new technologies to create as well as disrupt jobs and to improve the quality and productivity of the existing work of human employees. Our findings indicate that, by 2022, augmentation of existing jobs through technology may free up workers from the majority of data processing and information search tasks—and may also increasingly support them in high-value tasks such as reasoning and decision-making as augmentation becomes increasingly common over the coming years as a way to supplement and complement human labour. The changes heralded by the use of new technologies hold the potential to expand labour productivity across industries, and to shift the axis of competition between companies from a focus on automation-based labour cost reduction to an ability to leverage technologies as tools to complement and enhance human labour.
The data in this report represents the current understanding of human resources leaders—primarily of large employers with operations in multiple geographic locations—of the factors informing their planning, hiring, training and investment decisions at present and through to the report’s 2022 time horizon. The findings described throughout the report are not foregone conclusions but trends emerging from the collective actions and investment decisions taken or envisaged by companies today. The usefulness of this focused perspective lies precisely in its operational concreteness, shedding light on the understanding and intentions of companies that are often setting the pace of global labour market change within their sectors and geographies as well as shaping demand for talent across global value chains and fast-growing online talent platforms.
Since the publication of the 2016 edition of the report, business leaders’ view of the human resources function has begun to shift decisively—continuing a broader rethinking that has been going on for some time. Talent management and workforce analytics are increasingly integral elements of companies’ future-readiness plans. Yet relatively few organizations have so far formulated comprehensive workforce strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Therefore, this report also aims to serve as a call to action. Rapid adaptation to the new labour market is possible, provided there is concerted effort by all stakeholders. By evaluating the issues at hand from the perspective of some of the world’s largest employers, we hope to improve current knowledge around anticipated skills requirements, recruitment patterns and training needs. Furthermore, it is our hope that this knowledge can incentivize and enhance partnerships between governments, educators, training providers, workers and employers in order to better manage the transformative workforce impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Survey and research design
The Future of Jobs Report 2018, and the corresponding survey and research framework, represent an evolution of the approach taken in the report’s 2016 edition. The original research framework was developed in collaboration with leading experts from the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Councils, including representatives from academia, international organizations, professional service firms and the heads of human resources of major organizations. The 2018 edition reflects lessons learned from the design and execution of the original survey. The employer survey at the heart of this report was conducted in the first half of 2018 through the World Economic Forum’s global membership community—covering a comprehensive range of industries and geographies (for details, see Appendix B: Industry and Regional Classifications)—and in close collaboration with a number of leading research institutes and industry associations worldwide.
The survey focused on gathering the views of business executives—principally Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) facing the workforce changes afoot in today’s enterprises. The questions asked can be briefly outlined in three parts: (1) questions aimed at mapping the transformations currently underway; (2) questions focused on documenting shifting work tasks and therefore skills requirements in the job roles performed by individuals in the workplace of 2022; and (3) questions aimed at understanding the priorities and objectives companies have set themselves in terms of workforce training and reskilling and upskilling (Appendix A: Report Methodology provides a detailed overview of the report’s survey design and research methodology).
The resulting data set represents the operational understanding of strategic human resources professionals, specifically those of large employers operating in multiple locations (Figures 1a and 1b). While only a minority of the world’s global workforce of more than three billion people is directly employed by large multinational employers, these companies often act as anchors for local firm ecosystems. Therefore, in addition to their own significant share of employment, workforce-planning decisions by these firms have the potential to transform local labour markets through indirect employment effects and spillovers, and by setting the pace for adoption of new technologies and changing skills and occupational requirements.
Figure 1: Sample overview by number of locations and number of employees, 2018
Source: Future of Jobs Survey 2018, World Economic Forum.
In total, the report’s data set contains 313 unique responses by global companies from a wide range of industry sectors, collectively representing more than 15 million employees (Table 1). In addition, the report’s regional analysis is based on a diversified sample with a focus on balanced representation of company-level responses for 20 developed and emerging economies—Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Russian Federation, Singapore, South Africa, Korea, Rep., Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam—collectively representing about 70% of global GDP. Two sections in the latter part of the report are dedicated to industry- and country-level analysis: The Future of Jobs across Industries and The Future of Jobs across Regions. Appendix B: Industry and Regional Classifications provides an overview of categorizations used.
Table 1: Employees represented by companies surveyed
Source: Future of Jobs Survey 2018, World Economic Forum.
Structure of the report
This report consists of two parts. Part 1 explores the future of jobs, work tasks, skills and workforce strategies over the 2018 to 2022 period, as reflected in the operational understanding of CHROs and others at the frontlines of workforce transformation in some of the world’s largest employers. It touches first on expected trends, technological disruptions and strategic drivers of change transforming business models. It then explores a range of priority issues with regard to the development of comprehensive workforce strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including employee reskilling and workforce augmentation. Next, it examines specific implications for a range of different industries and geographies. Part 1 concludes with a set of recommendations for upgrading and reviewing existing talent and workforce strategies. Part 2 of the report presents detailed industry-by-industry and country-by-country trends and provides a range of industry-specific and country-specific practical information to decision-makers and experts through dedicated Industry Profiles and Country Profiles. In addition, the reader may refer to the report’s methodological appendix for further information on our survey design, sample selection criteria and research methodology.