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RAPPORT

The future of jobs

Employment, skills and workforce strategy for the fourth industrial revolution

Today, we are at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. Developments in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and biotechnology, to name just a few, are all building on and amplifying one another. This will lay the foundation for a revolution more comprehensive and all-encompassing than anything we have ever seen. Smart systems—homes, factories, farms, grids or cities—will help tackle problems ranging from supply chain management to climate change. The rise of the sharing economy will allow people to monetize everything from their empty house to their car.

While the impending change holds great promise, the patterns of consumption, production and employment created by it also pose major challenges requiring proactive adaptation by corporations, governments and individuals. Concurrent to the technological revolution are a set of broader socio-economic, geopolitical and demographic drivers of change, each interacting in multiple directions and intensifying one another. As entire industries adjust, most occupations are undergoing a fundamental transformation. While some jobs are threatened by redundancy and others grow rapidly, existing jobs are also going through a change in the skill sets required to do them. The debate on these transformations is often polarized between those who foresee limitless new opportunities and those that foresee massive dislocation of jobs. In fact, the reality is highly specific to the industry, region and occupation in question as well as the ability of various stakeholders to manage change.

The Future of Jobs Report is a first step in becoming specific about the changes at hand. It taps into the knowledge of those who are best placed to observe the dynamics of workforces—Chief Human Resources and Strategy Officers—by asking them what the current shifts mean, specifically for employment, skills and recruitment across industries and geographies. In particular, we have introduced a new measure—skills stability—to quantify the degree of skills disruption within an occupation, a job family or an entire industry. We have also been able to provide an outlook on the gender dynamics of the changes underway, a key element in understanding how the benefits and burdens of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be distributed.

Overall, there is a modestly positive outlook for employment across most industries, with jobs growth expected in several sectors. However, it is also clear that this need for more talent in certain job categories
is accompanied by high skills instability across all job categories. Combined together, net job growth and skills instability result in most businesses currently facing major recruitment challenges and talent shortages, a pattern already evident in the results and set to get worse over the next five years.

The question, then, is how business, government and individuals will react to these developments. To prevent a worst-case scenario—technological change accompanied by talent shortages, mass unemployment and growing inequality—reskilling and upskilling of today’s workers will be critical. While much has been said about the need for reform in basic education, it is simply not possible to weather the current technological revolution by waiting for the next generation’s workforce to become better prepared. Instead it is critical that businesses take an active role in supporting their current workforces through re-training, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning and that governments create the enabling environment, rapidly and creatively, to assist these efforts. In particular, business collaboration within industries to create larger pools of skilled talent will become indispensable, as will multi-sector skilling partnerships that leverage the very same collaborative models that underpin many of the technology-driven business changes underway today. Additionally, better data and planning metrics, such as those in this Report, are critical in helping to anticipate and proactively manage the current transition in labour markets.

We are grateful for the leadership of Jeffrey Joerres, Executive Chairman Emeritus, ManpowerGroup and Chair of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Jobs; Jamie McAuliffe, President and CEO, Education for Employment and Vice-Chair of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Jobs; J. Frank Brown, Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer, General Atlantic LLC and Chair of the Global Agenda Council on Gender Parity and Mara Swan, Executive Vice-President, Global Strategy and Talent, ManpowerGroup and Vice-Chair of the Global Agenda Council on Gender Parity.

We would also like to express our appreciation to Till Leopold, Project Lead, Employment, Skills and Human Capital Initiative; Vesselina Ratcheva, Data Analyst, Employment and Gender Initiatives; and Saadia Zahidi, Head of Employment and Gender Initiatives, for their dedication to this Report. We would like to thank Yasmina Bekhouche, Kristin Keveloh, Paulina Padilla Ugarte, Valerie Peyre, Pearl Samandari and Susan Wilkinson for their support of this project at the World Economic Forum. Finally, we welcome the untiring commitment of the Partners of the Global Challenge Initiative on Employment, Skills and Human Capital and the Global Challenge Initiative on Gender Parity, who have each been instrumental in shaping this combined Report of the two Global Challenge Initiatives.

The current technological revolution need not become a race between humans and machines but rather an opportunity for work to truly become a channel through which people recognize their full potential. To ensure that we achieve this vision, we must become more specific and much faster in understanding the changes underway and cognizant of our collective responsibility to lead our businesses and communities through this transformative moment. 

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