• The disruption caused by the pandemic and accelerating innovation will impact workforces, work cultures and industries for years to come.
  • The rate of job creation remains higher than job destruction, though the opportunities that emerge will require different skillsets, accelerating the need to up-skill the workforce.
  • Employers must invest in retraining and re-skilling employees, while levelling the playing field and embedding greater equity and social justice into the workforce of the future.

One year ago, companies across the US abruptly shuttered offices, sending employees home with their laptops and a vague hope to return to work in a matter of weeks. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a large segment of the global workforce through a remote-work experiment on a scale never seen before. Not surprisingly, 79% of office workers felt enormously unprepared to navigate this new reality.

While it is true that the COVID-19 pandemic broke through cultural and technological barriers that had prevented working from home in the past, it has also collided with the accelerating pace of innovation, creating a two-pronged disruption that has left many workers wondering: “How will I stay relevant, hold onto my job, or find one in the future?”

Dual disruption of pandemic and accelerating innovation

At HP, we’ve seen this seismic reshaping of economies and workforces become a forcing mechanism for most global office workers to rethink and take control of their professional futures. According to HP’s Workforce Evolution Study, rather than waiting for support from their employers, nearly one in three employees took it into their own hands to re-skill and make significant investments in home office supplies and technologies, with some realizing they could find more success as entrepreneurs.

In a recently recorded fireside chat with Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum, we discussed how the dual disruption of the pandemic and accelerating innovation will impact workforces, work cultures and industries for years to come. Here’s what we found out:

1. An “opportunity chasm” is imminent: In the past, workers with college degrees and specialised training felt relatively safe from automation, but the truth today is that they are not. Recent advances in AI and machine learning, accelerated by the pandemic, have created algorithms capable of outperforming white-collar professionals at certain parts of their jobs. Additionally, according to a 2020 Deloitte survey, nearly eight in 10 corporate executives say they have already implemented some form of RPA (robotic process automation) to streamline operations, while another 16% plan to do so within the next three years.

Despite the pandemic, the rate of job creation remains higher than the rate of job destruction. However, the jobs and opportunities that emerge will require vastly different skillsets, accelerating the urgent need to up-skill the workforce. In fact, 44% of employers already recognize the need for a digital skills-first workforce to survive.

2. Employers must invest in retraining and re-skilling employees: The Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2020” shows the difficulties have only compounded for industries that were already struggling to digitally transform pre-pandemic (retail, hospitality and travel), while industries built around digitally driven and human-focused roles (data analysis, human resources and the green economy) are poised for resilience.

HP’s own research shows that this climate of job insecurity is pushing employees to step into the driver’s seat to re-train themselves with the skills needed to succeed in current and future roles, while 50% of small and mid-sized employers are looking to their workforce to help define innovation strategies. This employee-employer partnership — and the ability to implement the right incentives and training programmes— is critical for helping businesses successfully navigate these shifts.

3. Inclusion is imperative: In many advanced economies, stark, systemic inequities have revealed fault lines in workplace diversity, exacerbated by the pandemic and global recession. It’s no secret that women, younger workers and racial minorities are among those most affected, and that this is where efforts must be focused. But there is an opportunity to level the playing field and embed greater equity and social justice into the workforce of the future. Working from home, despite its challenges, offers the kind of flexibility needed to hire across greater demographics — geographically and racially — and create more opportunity for segments of the workforce to rise to senior leadership.

The effects of the pandemic have caused long-term reverberations across the global workforce, but a renewed emphasis on re-skilling can help companies prepare their workers for the jobs of tomorrow. Employers must offer tech-driven solutions to employees to help build both hard and soft skills to contend with continued disruption.