Education and Skills

6 reasons to be optimistic about the future of work

The average US worker has no less than 48 new career pathways open to them Image: Rawpixel/Unsplash

Saadia Zahidi
Managing Director, World Economic Forum
Vesselina Stefanova Ratcheva
Head of Metrics, Communication Strategy and Coordination, World Economic Forum
Till Leopold
Head, Inclusive Economies Practice, Centre for the New Economy and Society, World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

The path to a good life appears increasingly difficult to find and pursue for a growing number of people. A key factor driving these concerns is the extent to which opportunities for finding stable, meaningful work have increasingly become polarized, favouring those fortunate enough to be living in certain geographies and to be holding certain in-demand skills. We need a future in which a range of options open up for the many, not just for the few.

How can we prepare everyone for the displacement – and the new opportunities – to come? Here are six findings from our new report, Towards a Reskilling Revolution: A Future of Jobs for All, on creating a future of jobs for all:

New job opportunities do exist

Losing the comfort of the familiar may be hard – but tangible opportunities do exist. Our new report finds that, with some reskilling, the average US worker has no less than 48 “good-fit” new career pathways to choose from. Growth is expected in a range of sectors already – from IT and infrastructure to health and education. Looking out beyond this immediate growth, the future of work is in our hands. We can shape how technology enhances opportunities for work and fulfilment – not destroys them.

Image: Towards a Reskilling Revolution / World Economic Forum

But a reskilling revolution will be needed

Perhaps one reason there is concern among workers, businesses and governments when it comes to the future of work is that so few economies have robust reskilling mechanisms for adults. When we think of learning, we think of a child learning, not an adult. For too long, social mobility through education was something for which the ground was prepared either early in life or not at all. Nothing less than a reskilling revolution will be needed to broaden opportunity for everyone – including the three billion workers already in the global labour force.

The revolution will bring returns – many times over

What is sorely needed to unlock this vision is a willingness of the part of leaders – and workers themselves – to make the right investments in upskilling and reskilling. The largest returns will be to individual workers themselves. We find that of the 1.4 million jobs project to be displaced in the US by 2026, those who undergo retraining to make a job transition could see an average wage increase of $15,000. But business will benefit too in the form of talent that powers their businesses, especially in roles that would otherwise remain unfilled. And governments will find closing skills gaps to be amongst the highest return investments for fuelling growth and fostering social cohesion.

Data can help us

Based on a data collaboration to compare similar bundles of skills between jobs, our report presents a range of job transition maps that lay out the viable retraining options for workers in declining job types. For example, assembly line workers in the United States bound to be displaced from their jobs can look to 59 alternative “good-fit” career pathways. Cashiers displaced by automated checkout systems and a rise in e-commerce can look to work in food services, becoming baristas and shop managers, or become travel clerks and travel agents.

Gender equality will need to be hard-wired into reskilling

Men and women who are at risk of displacement currently have very different options for finding new jobs – women have about half the opportunities that men have. In the model we test in our report, combined reskilling and job transitions would lead to a slightly narrower opportunity gap and increased wages for 74% of all currently at-risk women, while the equivalent figure for men is 53%. There is an opportunity to close persistent gender gaps by taking a gender disaggregated view when it comes to reskilling efforts and ensuring that both women and men get training for an access to the most promising growing roles.

Have you read?

Coordination for job transitions will be the greatest challenge of our time

By 2026, without any retraining, 16% of all displaced workers in the US would find themselves at a dead-end and another one in four would find that they have at most three potential job transitions to choose from. With reskilling we find that over 95% of displaced workers could move into growing, usually higher income jobs. However, this requires that 70% of affected workers retrain in a new job “family” or career. This presents a coordination problem. To solve it, we need concerted efforts by businesses, policy-makers and various stakeholders to think differently about workforce planning – and to work with each other. We need retraining initiatives that combine reskilling programmes with income support and job-matching schemes to fully support those undergoing this transition.

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Related topics:
Education and SkillsJobs and the Future of Work
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