The Future of Jobs: What Does it Mean for HR?

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future of work

A recent report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) describes a rapidly evolving workplace.

Creating strategies, using targeted tech, and making the right choices now all depend on knowing what the job market might look like in as little as two years.

In January, leaders of industry, business, and tech mingled with wealthy entrepreneurs and celebrities at the WEF in Davos, Switzerland.  Held annually for more than 40 years, the WEF is a collaborative opportunity to share insights and questions on diverse topics of global economic interest.

With a mission to improve the state of the world, the WEF also develops research reports on an agenda of topics that hold worldwide concern.  This year, the WEF captivated business, the media, and others with its far-reaching look into the Future of Jobs.

The future of work is about transformation.  Millions of jobs will be lost, and millions of positions created.  For HR, along with transitioning services to meet new business drivers, there is a strong need to understand what is headed this way.

A compelling feature of this report is the prediction that these changes are occurring right now—and in the next five years. Analyzed by academic, professional, and other experts, data for this report was gained through surveying senior executives from more than 300 global companies. Here are some key points from the WEF report:

  • Disruptors: Termed the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” coming workforce disruptions are driven by rapid developments in industry, health, communications, and tech.  Artificial intelligence (AI) is maturing into use with robotics, modeling, and assistive and integrated health devices.  Cognitive software utilizes machine learning to gather, compare, categorize, and assist with recruiting and talent management.  Factors bearing on business models include climate change, the changing nature of work and work/life balance, and the ongoing introduction of new tech and energy sources.

Along with machine learning, look for leaps in nanotech, 3D printing, and Big Data analysis. Smart tech will underpin major infrastructure pieces like transportation, public safety, the Internet of Things, energy and more.

  • Where are the jobs going? Economic and technological churn will lead to a loss of more than seven million jobs by 2020. The bigger part of that job loss is expected in positions that relate to office staff and administration.  Other industries expected to contract include manufacturing, construction, entertainment, art and design, the legal field, and installation and maintenance.  While losses are expected in manufacturing and production, the field is expected to experience some rebound as workers are reskilled and redeployed rather than permanently laid off.
  • Will new jobs be created? Expect the addition of new jobs, and creation of jobs, in areas including business and finance, management, computers and mathematics, engineering, sales and training.  Specific growth is mentioned in the areas of data analysis and specialized sales representatives.
  • What about work/life balance? Workforce change is already underway.  Economic and industrial shifts mean compensation in some fields is going up, while job security is going down.  Highly compensated skills today may be less so tomorrow.  The balance between work and life is expected to increase even as jobs, job-sharing, and job retention become more nimble. These shifts pose significant challenges to HR personnel on a number of levels.
  • Needed skills: In an interesting comparison, experts compared the top skills needed in 2015—and in 2020:

Top 10 skills in 2015:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Coordinating with others
  3. People management
  4. Critical thinking
  5. Negotiation
  6. Quality control
  7. Service orientation
  8. Judgment and decision making
  9. Active listening
  10. Creativity

In contrast, the top 10 skills in 2020 are expected to be:

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People Management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgment and decision making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility


  • What strategies might work? A number of strategies are suggested to counter job loss, diversity, and skill issues.  Top strategies noted in the WEF report include:
  • Retrain, re-skill and redeploy current workers
  • Job mobility and rotation
  • Partner and collaborate with industry or education
  • Target global, female, and minority talent
  • Invest in apprenticeship programs


  • Global impact: The impact of job loss, or gain, is not dispersed evenly around the world.  Countries expected to lose the most jobs include the United States, Germany, Brazil and ASEAN.  In turn, countries where job creation is picking up steam include ASEAN and the United States, with Japan and Germany some distance behind.

The WEF research has global depth and impact.  It offers an eye-opening view of the rapidly developing workspace.  For HR, the pace of change is only going to pick up.

Staying on top of HR tech is a challenge we can handle for you.  Talk to us when you need to rethink your staffing, recruiting, and onboarding software.



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