Businesses will need to recognise investment in human capital is “an asset rather than a liability” if they are to succeed in the unfolding Fourth Industrial Revolution, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum.

Ensuring positive outcomes and a future of good work for all “will require bold leadership and an entrepreneurial spirit from businesses and governments, as well as an agile mindset of lifelong learning from employees”, it adds.

The WEF describes its The Future of Jobs Report 2018  as “a call to action” to governments, businesses, educators and individuals “to take advantage of a rapidly closing window to create a new future of good work for all”.

The WEF says the pace of change has “only accelerated further” since it published its initial report on the rapidly changing labour market – The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – in January 2016.

The 2018 report says that to prevent an “undesirable lose-lose scenario” – in which technological change is accompanied by talent shortages, mass unemployment and growing inequality – it is critical that businesses actively support their existing workforces “through reskilling and upskilling”.

Individuals must also take “a proactive approach to their 
own lifelong learning” and governments should “create an enabling environment, rapidly and creatively, to assist in these efforts”.

Analysis indicates that today retraining and upskilling efforts “remain focused on a narrow set of current highly-skilled, highly-valued employees”.


Equipped with future-proof skills

New technology can drive business growth and create and augment jobs provided it can “fully leverage the talents of a motivated and agile workforce who are equipped with future-proof skills to take advantage of new opportunities through continuous retraining and upskilling”.

Conversely, skills gaps – both among workers and among an organisation’s senior leadership – may significantly hamper new technology adoption and therefore business growth, it says.

The report adds that technological breakthroughs “are rapidly shifting the frontier” between work tasks performed by humans
 and those performed by machines and algorithms.

“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 polarisation,” it says.

On the positive side, it says a range of socio-economic trends – such as national economic growth trajectories and the expansion of education and the middle classes – are driving business opportunities in tandem with the spread
of new technologies.

However, technological
 and social trends such as increasing protectionism, cyber threats, and increasingly ageing societies could “negatively impact business growth”.


Robotics technologies at or near commercialisation

By 2022 many firms are likely to have expanded their adoption 
of “user and entity” big data analytics, the report says. They are also expecting to have expanded adoption of technologies such as 
the Internet of Things and app- and web-enabled markets, and to make extensive use of cloud computing.

Machine learning and augmented and virtual reality are also poised to receive considerable business investment, it adds.

Recent robotics technologies at or near commercialisation – including stationary robots, non-humanoid land robots and fully automated aerial drones – 
in addition to machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence, are also attracting significant business interest.

The report says that among roles set to experience increasing demand in the period up to 2022 are established jobs such as Data Analysts and Scientists, Software and Applications Developers, and Ecommerce and Social Media Specialists.

Also expected to grow are roles “that leverage distinctively human skills” such as Customer Service Workers, Sales and Marketing Professionals, Training and Development, People and Culture, and Organisational Development Specialists as well as Innovation Managers.


Accelerating demand for new specialist roles

There is “extensive evidence of accelerating demand” for a variety of new specialist roles related to understanding
 and leveraging the latest emerging technologies: AI and Machine Learning Specialists, Big Data Specialists, Process Automation Experts, Information Security Analysts, User Experience and Human-Machine Interaction.

Jobs expected to become increasingly redundant over the 2018–2022 period are “routine-based, middle-skilled white-collar roles” – such as Data Entry Clerks, Accounting and Payroll Clerks, Secretaries, Auditors, Bank Tellers and Cashiers – that are “susceptible to advances in new technologies
and process automation”.

“Given that the skills requirements of emerging roles frequently look very different from those of roles experiencing redundancy, proactive, strategic and targeted efforts will be needed to map and incentivise workforce redeployment,” it says.

There is also likely to be a continued fall in demand
 for manual skills and physical abilities and also a decrease in demand for skills related to the management of financial and other resources, as well 
as basic technology installation and maintenance skills.


Skills continuing to grow in prominence

Skills continuing to grow in prominence by
 2022 include analytical thinking and innovation as well 
as active learning and learning strategies.

“The sharply increased importance of skills such as technology design and programming highlights the growing demand for various forms of technology competency identified by employers.”

However, “human” skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion, and negotiation, will likely “retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving”.

Emotional intelligence, leadership and social influence as well as service orientation will also be in demand.

Companies will need to pursue a range of organisational strategies in order to stay competitive – and to do this, “the skills of executive leadership and the human resources function will also need to evolve to successfully lead the transformation”.

Further reading

The Future of Jobs Report 2018 – World Economic Forum

The Future of Jobs Report 2016 – World Economic Forum


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