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Recession and Automation Changes Our Future of Work, But There are Jobs Coming

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The Future of Jobs 2020 report has found that COVID-19 has caused the labour market to change faster than expected. The research released today by the World Economic Forum indicates that what used to be considered the “future of work” has already arrived.

By 2025, automation and a new division of labour between humans and machines will disrupt 85 million jobs globally in medium and large businesses across 15 industries and 26 economies. Roles in areas such as data entry, accounting and administrative support are decreasing in demand as automation and digitization in the workplace increases. More than 80% of business executives are accelerating plans to digitize work processes and deploy new technologies; and 50% of employers are expecting to accelerate the automation of some roles in their companies. In contrast to previous years, job creation is now slowing while job destruction is accelerating.

“COVID-19 has accelerated the arrival of the future of work,” said Saadia Zahidi, Manging Director, World Economic Forum. “Accelerating automation and the fallout from the COVID-19 recession has deepened existing inequalities across labour markets and reversed gains in employment made since the global financial crisis in 2007-2008. It’s a double disruption scenario that presents another hurdle for workers in this difficult time. The window of opportunity for proactive management of this change is closing fast. Businesses, governments and workers must plan to urgently work together to implement a new vision for the global workforce.”

Some 43% of businesses surveyed indicate that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration, 41% plan to expand their use of contractors for task-specialized work, and 34% plan to expand their workforce due to technology integration.

By 2025, employers will divide work between human and machines equally. Roles that leverage human skills will rise in demand. Machines will be primarily focused on information and data processing, administrative tasks and routine manual jobs for white- and blue-collar positions.

New sense of urgency for the reskilling revolution

As the economy and job markets evolve, 97 million new roles will emerge across the care economy, in fourth industrial revolution technology industries like artificial intelligence, and in content creation fields. The tasks where humans are set to retain their comparative advantage include managing, advising, decision-making, reasoning, communicating and interacting. There will be a surge in demand for workers who can fill green economy jobs, roles at the forefront of the data and artificial intelligence economy, as well as new roles in engineering, cloud computing and product development.

For those workers set to remain in their roles in the next five years, nearly 50% will need reskilling for their core skills.

Despite the current economic downturn, most employers recognize the value of reskilling their workforce. An average of 66% of employers surveyed expect to see a return on investment in upskilling and reskilling of current employees within one year. They also expect to successfully redeploy 46% of workers within their own organization. “In the future, we will see the most competitive businesses are the ones that have invested heavily in their human capital – the skills and competencies of their employees,” Zahidi said.

Building a more inclusive future of work

The individuals and communities most negatively affected by the unprecedented changes brought about by COVID-19 are likely to be those that are already most disadvantaged. In the absence of proactive efforts, inequality is likely to be exacerbated by the dual impact of technology and the pandemic recession.

The Future of Jobs 2020 report partner ADP Research Institute tracked the impact of COVID-19 on the United States labour market. Between February and May 2020, data showed that displaced workers were, on average, mostly female, younger and had a lower wage. Comparing the impact of the global financial crisis of 2008 on individuals with lower education levels to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the impact today is far more significant and more likely to deepen existing inequalities.

“In the wake of COVID-19, the US workforce experienced immense change, and we were able to track this impact on the labour market in near real time,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, Head of ADP Research Institute Labour Market Research. “While the swift and staggering job loss in the initial months was significant, it is only one anomaly of this ‘recession.’ Industry distribution, business size and worker demographics were all disrupted due to labour market changes brought about by COVID-19, signalling that this downturn is unlike any other in modern US history.”

“The pandemic has disproportionately impacted millions of low-skilled workers,” said Jeff Maggioncalda, Chief Executive Officer of Coursera, another report partner. “The recovery must include a coordinated reskilling effort by institutions to provide accessible and job-relevant learning that individuals can take from anywhere in order to return to the workforce.”

Currently, only 21% of businesses worldwide are able to make use of public funds for reskilling and upskilling programmes. The public sector will need a three-tiered approach to help workers. This includes providing stronger safety nets for displaced workers, improving the education and training systems and creating incentives for investments in markets and the jobs of tomorrow.

Companies can measure and disclose their treatment of employees by adopting environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics. This will help benchmark success, provide support where it is needed and ensure new gaps that arise are quickly identified and closed.

Remote working is here to stay but requires adaptation

Some 84% of employers are set to rapidly digitalize working processes, including a significant expansion of remote working. Employers say there is the potential to move 44% of their workforce to operate remotely.

According to the report, 78% of business leaders expect some negative impact on worker productivity. This suggests that some industries and companies are struggling to adapt quickly enough to the shift to remote working caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To address concerns about productivity and well-being, about one-third of all employers said they will take steps to create a sense of community, connection and belonging among their employees.

Career pivots become the “new normal”

The research also indicated that a growing number of people are making career changes to entirely new occupations. According to LinkedIn data gathered over the past five years, some 50% of career shifts into data and artificial intelligence are from different fields. That figure is much higher for sales roles (75%), content creation and production positions, such as social media managers and content writers (72%), and engineering roles (67%).

“As we think about ways to upskill or transition large populations of the workforce who are out of work as a result of COVID-19 into new, more future-proofed jobs, these new insights into career transitions and the skills required to make them have huge potential for leaders in the public and the private sector alike,” said Karin Kimbrough, Chief Economist at LinkedIn.

“Our research reveals the majority of transitions into jobs of tomorrow come from non-emerging jobs, proving that many of these jobs are more accessible than workers might think, Kimbrough continued. “If we can help individuals, and the leaders who are directing workforce funding and investment, identify the small clusters of skills that would have an outsized impact on opening up more sustainable career paths, we can make a real difference in addressing the unprecedented levels of unemployment that we’re seeing globally.”

Data shows how long to reskill

According to The Future of Jobs Survey, core skills such as critical thinking, analysis and problem-solving are consistently top of the reskilling and upskilling priorities for educators and businesses. Newly emerging in 2020 are skills in self-management such as resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.

Data from Coursera suggests that individuals could start gaining the top 10 skills for each emerging profession in people and culture, content writing, sales and marketing in one to two months. Those wishing to expand their skills in product development and data and artificial intelligence could do so in two to three months, and those switching into cloud computing and engineering could make headway in the new skillset through a four to five-month learning programme.

There has been a fourfold increase in the number of people seeking opportunities for online learning under their own initiative, a fivefold increase in employers offering their workers online learning opportunities and a ninefold enrolment increase in people accessing online learning through government programmes.

Those in employment are placing larger emphasis on personal development courses; those unemployed have placed greater emphasis on learning digital skills such as data analysis, computer science and information technology.

“The pandemic has accelerated many of the trends around the future of work, dramatically shrinking the window of opportunity to reskill and transition workers into future-fit jobs,” said Hamoon Ekhtiari, CEO of FutureFit AI. “No matter what prediction you believe about jobs and skills, what is bound to be true is heightened intensity and higher frequency of career transitions especially for those already most vulnerable and marginalized.”

“The Future of Jobs Report is a critical source of insights in supporting companies and government through these workforce transitions, and FutureFit AI is honoured to share our data and insights in the Report, Ekhtiari continued. “We look forward to continuing to contribute to a just, worker-first, and data-powered recovery as a partner of the World Economic Forum’s New Economy & Society community and its Reskilling Revolutions Platform.”

The Future of Jobs

Now in its third edition, The Future of Jobs report maps the jobs and skills of the future, tracking the pace of change. It aims to shed light on the pandemic-related disruptions in 2020, contextualized within a longer history of economic cycles and the expected outlook for technology adoption, jobs and skills in the next five years. The Future of Jobs survey informs the report. It is based on the projections of senior business leaders (typically Chief Human Resource Officers and Chief Strategy Officers) representing nearly 300 global companies, which collectively employ 8 million workers.

It presents the workforce planning and quantitative projections of chief human resource and strategy officers through to 2025, while also drawing on the expertise of a wide range of World Economic Forum executive and expert communities. The report features data from LinkedIn, Coursera, ADP and FutureFit.AI, which have provided innovative new metrics to shed light on one of the most important challenges of our time.

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Clean energy demand for critical minerals set to soar as the world pursues net zero goals

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Supplies of critical minerals essential for key clean energy technologies like electric vehicles and wind turbines need to pick up sharply over the coming decades to meet the world’s climate goals, creating potential energy security hazards that governments must act now to address, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency. 

The special report, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, is the most comprehensive global study to date on the central importance of minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements in a secure and rapid transformation of the global energy sector. Building on the IEA’s longstanding leadership role in energy security, the report recommends six key areas of action for policy makers to ensure that critical minerals enable an accelerated transition to clean energy rather than becoming a bottleneck.

“Today, the data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realising those ambitions,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA. “The challenges are not insurmountable, but governments must give clear signals about how they plan to turn their climate pledges into action. By acting now and acting together, they can significantly reduce the risks of price volatility and supply disruptions.”

“Left unaddressed, these potential vulnerabilities could make global progress towards a clean energy future slower and more costly – and therefore hamper international efforts to tackle climate change,” Dr Birol said. “This is what energy security looks like in the 21st century, and the IEA is fully committed to helping governments ensure that these hazards don’t derail the global drive to accelerate energy transitions.”

The special report, part of the IEA’s flagship World Energy Outlook series, underscores that the mineral requirements of an energy system powered by clean energy technologies differ profoundly from one that runs on fossil fuels. A typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a similarly sized gas-fired power plant.

Demand outlooks and supply vulnerabilities vary widely by mineral, but the energy sector’s overall needs for critical minerals could increase by as much as six times by 2040, depending on how rapidly governments act to reduce emissions. Not only is this a massive increase in absolute terms, but as the costs of technologies fall, mineral inputs will account for an increasingly important part of the value of key components, making their overall costs more vulnerable to potential mineral price swings.

The commercial importance of these minerals also grow rapidly: today’s revenue from coal production is ten times larger than from energy transition minerals. However, in climate-driven scenarios, these positions are reversed well before 2040.

To produce the report, the IEA built on its detailed, technology-rich energy modelling tools to establish a unique database showing future mineral requirements under varying scenarios that span a range of levels of climate action and 11 different technology evolution pathways. In climate-driven scenarios, mineral demand for use in batteries for electric vehicles and grid storage is a major force, growing at least thirty times to 2040. The rise of low-carbon power generation to meet climate goals also means a tripling of mineral demand from this sector by 2040. Wind takes the lead, bolstered by material-intensive offshore wind. Solar PV follows closely, due to the sheer volume of capacity that is added. The expansion of electricity networks also requires a huge amount of copper and aluminium.

Unlike oil – a commodity produced around the world and traded in liquid markets – production and processing of many minerals such as lithium, cobalt and some rare earth elements are highly concentrated in a handful of countries, with the top three producers accounting for more than 75% of supplies. Complex and sometimes opaque supply chains also increase the risks that could arise from physical disruptions, trade restrictions or other developments in major producing countries. In addition, while there is no shortage of resources, the quality of available deposits is declining as the most immediately accessible resources are exploited. Producers also face the necessity of stricter environmental and social standards.

The IEA report provides six key recommendations for policy makers to foster stable supplies of critical minerals to support accelerated clean energy transitions. These include the need for governments to lay out their long-term commitments for emission reductions, which would provide the confidence needed for suppliers to invest in and expand mineral production. Governments should also promote technological advances, scale up recycling to relieve pressure on primary supplies, maintain high environmental and social standards, and strengthen international collaboration between producers and consumers.

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Global e-commerce jumps to $26.7 trillion, fuelled by COVID-19

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Parts of the online economy have boomed since COVID-19 began, while some pre-pandemic big-hitters have seen a reversal of their fortunes in the last year, amid widespread movement restrictions, UN economists have found.

According to UN trade and development experts UNCTAD, the e-commerce sector saw a “dramatic” rise in its share of all retail sales, from 16 per cent to 19 per cent in 2020.

The digital retail economy experienced most growth in the Republic of Korea, where internet sales increased from around one in five transactions in 2019, to more than one in four last year.

“These statistics show the growing importance of online activities”, said Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics. “They also point to the need for countries, especially developing ones, to have such information as they rebuild their economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

The UK also saw a spike in online transactions over the same period, from 15.8 to 23.3 per cent; so too did China (from 20.7 to 24.9 per cent), the US (11 to 14 per cent), Australia (6.3 to 9.4 per cent), Singapore (5.9 to 11.7 per cent) and Canada (3.6 to 6.2 per cent).  

Online business-to-consumer (B2C) sales for the world’s top 13 companies stood at $2.9 trillion in 2020, UNCTAD said on Friday.

Bumpy ride

UNCTAD also said that among the top 13 e-commerce firms – most being from China and the US – those offering ride-hailing and travel services have suffered.

These include holiday site Expedia, which fell from fifth place in 2019 to 11th in 2020, a slide mirrored by travel aggregator, Booking Holdings, and Airbnb.

By comparison, e-firms offering a wider range of services and goods to online consumers fared better, with the top 13 companies seeing a more than 20 per cent increase in their sales – up from 17.9 per cent in 2019.

These winners include Shopify, whose gains rose more than 95 per cent last year – and Walmart (up 72.4 per cent). 

Cashing-up

Overall, global e-commerce sales jumped to $26.7 trillion in 2019, up four per cent from a year earlier, the UN number-crunchers noted, citing the latest available estimates.

In addition to consumer online purchases, this figure includes “business-to-business” (B2B) trade, which put together was worth 30 per cent of global gross domestic product two years ago.

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COVID-19 has reshaped last-mile logistics, with e-commerce deliveries rising 25% in 2020

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COVID-19 has shifted the way people buy goods, accelerating the rise in online shopping and e-commerce deliveries. According to a new report from the World Economic Forum, this has led to a 25% rise in consumer e-commerce deliveries in 2020.

The new report, Pandemic, Parcels and Public Vaccination: Envisioning the Next Normal for the Last-Mile Ecosystem, explores changes seen over the last year which will greatly influence last mile deliveries in the future. For example, it’s expected that 10%-20% of the recent increase in e-commerce deliveries will continue after the pandemic and the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Covid-19 shutdowns have completely reshaped how we live and of course this includes how and what we’re buying,” said Christoph Wolff, Head of Mobility, World Economic Forum. “Leaders must consider and respond to the effects COVID-19 has had on e-commerce deliveries and what impact these changes will have on their cities and communities.”

Beyond rising demand, the past year has also seen a large shift to greener delivery options, with wider spread EV across the industry and more stringent carbon emission rules from cities expected to shape delivery networks in the near future.

Overall, the report finds six main structural changes to the delivery and logistics sector that are expected to last:

Six structural changes

The pandemic has caused an increase in last-mile deliveries that are likely to persist.
In 2020, business-to-consumer parcel deliveries have risen by about 25%. The report suggests that part of this increased demand will be durable, with at least 10%-20% of the growth remaining post-pandemic.

Consumers increasingly buy new types of products online and consider environmental and health impact when buying.
As consumers continue to buy a wider array of goods online, they are also becoming more ecologically aware. For example, 56% of millennials cite environmental protection as the reason for choosing alternatives to home delivery.

Decarbonization of last-mile deliveries has accelerated.
Companies and cities have ramped up commitments to make emission-free deliveries, while many pandemic-related economic stimulus packages, especially in the European Union and China, contain provisions to support green mobility and goods transport.

Faced with budget challenges and increased transport needs, cities steer last-mile transitions.
Many cities, like Seattle and Boston, have started to repurpose kerb space to designated delivery pick-up. Others, including Santa Monica and Amsterdam, are taking bold action on cleaner delivery with “zero-emission delivery zones” and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Proven technologies are fuelling the last-mile ecosystem revolution.
While disruptive new technologies, such as drones and delivery robots, will continue to emerge, the last-mile revolution is happening now as proven technologies scale up. The likes of parcel lockers and data sharing for load pooling are being adopted around the world as the costs of implementation decrease

New business models emerge to meet increased demand for sustainable delivery vehicles.
Certain logistics companies are now offering services to online retailers, which will help them identify the delivery routes most suited to make the immediate transition to electric delivery vehicles.

Last mile for vaccines

While ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines remains the most pressing issue in global vaccine distribution, effective last-mile delivery is another critical issue for countries. The key challenges are cold storage, second vaccine dose needs, and a disconnect between the vaccine and patient journey.

“Governments and logistics companies could think about teaming up with players who are experienced in managing very local, capillary demand and with integrating a large number of local retail outlets,” says Anja Huber, Engagement Manager, McKinsey & Company. “Examples include large online retailers, eGrocery giants and technology platform players”

Potential solutions countries can implement for efficient vaccine delivery include real-time logistics planning, data integration, centralized management of delivery strategies at the national level and many more.

There are also early examples of countries that have handled this challenge particularly well. While there are many factors in vaccine distribution success, broadly speaking, countries with tight integration of healthcare and logistics stakeholders seem to show the highest national vaccination rates two months into 2021.

These include Israel, the UK and Chile outperforming other countries with more decentralized healthcare systems, like the US and Germany, which had slower initial vaccine rollouts.

Clearly, much still needs to be done to ensure developed countries overcome operational issues with vaccine delivery. However, mobility solutions should not overshadow an even larger ethical challenge in the differences of vaccine access between the global north and global south, which is a priority for greater equity.

Future of the last mile

The impact of COVID-19 on the last-mile delivery has accelerated existing trends across the sector, leading to six structural changes expected to shape the future of last mile deliveries.

These will be part of a broader urban mobility transition, driven by public policy and company actions. As cities and logistics leaders continue the sustainable urban delivery transition, close public-private coordination will be critical. Zero Emissions Urban Fleets (ZEUF) network, for example, provides a relevant dedicated stakeholder platform for this work.

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