It is axiomatic that progress often means trouble. Virtually every industrial revolution has brought about greater productivity and resulted, in the short term, in fewer jobs.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution — that’s the coming one, if you haven’t kept track — won’t be immune to this trend, according to a new World Economic Forum report.
As many as 7.1 million jobs could disappear thanks, in part, to developments in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing, genetics and biology, according to the Future of Jobs report released at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.
The net loss to jobs, however, may be lower, since these same industries could create as many as 2.1 million new jobs.
The findings echo other studies; in particular, a recent report that said machines would swallow 47% of jobs by the middle of this century.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) reached its similarly dire conclusion after surveying executives from companies within 15 of the World’s largest economies, including Australia, Brazil, Germany, Japan, the UK and the United States. Together, the surveyed countries make up 65% of the global workforce, according to the WEF.
Initially, healthcare, energy and the financial sector will experience the most dramatic job loss.
During that same time, according to the report, information and communication, along with media and entertainment will see some of the biggest job gains.
Changing the nature of work
The gig economy is about to get a lot more complicated.
AI and robotics [changes are] not expected to peak until five years from now. The stuff that is hitting us now is about the changing nature of work
The WEF report describes this as a new “gig”-based economy, where new technologies make it possible for people to work anywhere and anytime and for once-consolidated jobs and tasks to be broken up and spread across workers who often are only connected by the Internet.
Among the chief drivers of job change recognised by the WEF’s survey respondents are the mobile internet and cloud technology, processing power, big data, new energy supplies and related technology, the Internet of Things and the sharing economy.
Technology alone, however, is not the only thing driving job change.
“Yes there’s a lot of technological change, but a lot of other things interacting with it, including a growing middle class, youth market, aging economy,” said the head of WEF. Also noted in the survey is climate change and geopolitical volatility as chief drivers of global job change.
In addition, while the report points to “job churn”, “skills churn,” will play a significant role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “It’s not just displacement of jobs and whole new categories…each one of us will feel fairly major pressure re-skilling within our existing jobs.
Job losses, as predicted by the WEF’s report, may fall equally on men and women, at least based on the raw percentages: 48% for women and 52% for men.
However, as the report notes, the male workforce is still larger, which means that the 48% loss will be felt even more acutely by women. The numbers translate “into a widening of the employment gender gap, with women losing five jobs for every job gained compared with men losing three jobs for every job gained,” noted the report.
Bad news rising?
No matter how you spin the WEF data, a loss of 5 million jobs does not sound good. Just how bad will the Fourth Industrial Revolution be for skilled and unskilled workers?
Forrester VP and Principal Analyst James McQuivey, Ph.D. said in an email to Mashable after they asked him to review the report that technology will “remove jobs.”
“If a similar report had been written in 1800, it would have claimed that more than half of the jobs in the economy would be removed by industrialisation”
Another difference: unlike the first Industrial revolution, which lasted roughly 80 years, job churn will happen much faster. “Digital has an accelerating effect on all innovation, including this kind”, and it is this acceleration that could serve to soften the blow of these changes.
“Information is flowing incredibly fast. We have kind of prediction and forecasting tools that may not have existed in previous industrial revolutions.”
Even without them, the world is more than ready to weather these changes. Unfamiliar jobs do not equal bad or unwanted work.
For those who doubt that, look back at the massive job losses due to farming efficiency in the past 200 years and then see that despite all of those losses we have since achieved the most advanced society in history measured by every possible measure from health and wellness to economic prosperity and mobility.
Doubtlessly there are, at least based on the report findings, some difficult workforce days ahead, but the very tools that are disrupting us can help us manage or navigate this transition period.