What data can tell us about the future of work

Office workers during lunch hour in Tokyo, 2015

By combining info sources, we can get a real-time picture of where the labour market is headed Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter

Igor Perisic
Chief Data Officer, LinkedIn Corporation, US
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

This year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos will explore the many ways in which our world is becoming increasingly complex and fragmented – and how world leaders should respond.

The meeting comes at a time when technological advances have fuelled a polarizing debate about the future of work. Will tech-driven shifts in global labour markets exacerbate existing inequities, pushing us further away from our goals of inclusive growth? Or will advances in automation and machine learning liberate human potential to pursue more noble aims?

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We’re hopeful that unprecedented access to more – and more timely – data on the economy can ground otherwise divisive conversations in the sort of hard facts that can lead to shared understanding and collaborative solutions. By combining historically disparate data sources, such as administrative labour-market data, with new ones from digital platforms such as LinkedIn, we have a far more complete and real-time picture of both the status quo and emerging trends in the labour market.

The global labour market – in digital form

At LinkedIn, we’ve created a digital representation of the global labour market – what we call the “economic graph” – which enables us to understand and share insights into hiring rates, employer skills demands and inter- and intra-national talent migrations.

We believe that one of the best ways of realizing our company’s vision – to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce – is to empower policymakers with these insights so that they can make timely, informed and targeted decisions, rooted in data, when managing their labour markets.

Image: LinkedIn

We help our partners draw on the economic graph to get to grips with the new challenges we’re all facing as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But it can also help us with some of the problems that have always been with us.

Consider endemic gender gaps that vex policymakers, organizations and labour markets. In partnership with the World Economic Forum, LinkedIn has been able to examine how diverse industries are failing women at each stage of their careers, and where in the pipeline women are falling behind – from entry level to senior leadership level. These insights, reflected in last year’s Global Gender Gap Report, help us to understand where structural problems arise – from unfair hiring practices to potential biases in promotion – and rally decision-makers to collectively address these pain points.

Plotting 'skills genomes'

The Forum also recently utilized LinkedIn data to inform its Global Human Capital Report, which ranks countries on how well they are investing in and leveraging the knowledge and skills of their workforce to create economic value. Our unique data on the supply and demand of 50,000 skills allowed us to create “skills genomes” for different university degrees over time, to better understand which skills are commonly shared across degrees, and which cross-functional skills are most important regardless of area of study. By understanding the skills most in demand in high-growth fields, policymakers can make more informed decisions about how best to support labour-force development and grow their human capital.

Factory worker Robert Holt operates a lathe in Mauchline, Scotland
Factory worker Robert Holt operates a lathe in Mauchline, Scotland Image: Reuters/Russell Cheyne

Historically, labour-market data has been collected at set intervals – monthly, quarterly, yearly, or even less frequently – making it useful for reflecting on what has happened, but less useful for understanding what is currently happening. The power of more real-time data sources, such as LinkedIn, now enables us to understand the structure and changes of the labour market in new and exciting ways.

Analysing labour-market shifts in real time through the economic graph provides deeper insights into the nature of these shifts – what is behind them, what other factors may also drive them, what downstream impacts they may cause, and what we can expect in the future as a result.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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