Jobs and the Future of Work

The 4 forces workplaces can't ignore

Four forces – specialization, scarcity, rivalry and humanity – have shaped workforce strategy throughout human history, PwC says.

Four forces – specialization, scarcity, rivalry and humanity – have shaped workforce strategy throughout human history, PwC says. Image: Unsplash/ Campaign Creators

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Technological Transformation

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  • Four forces – specialization, scarcity, rivalry and humanity – have shaped workforce strategy throughout human history, PwC says.
  • By understanding how these forces worked in the past, employers can shape their workforces for the future.
  • Technology is driving accelerating change in the workplace, and forcing companies to consider what skills they’ll need in coming years.

Workforces have been shaped throughout human history by four key forces: specialization, scarcity, rivalry and humanity.

In a new report, professional services firm PwC suggests businesses should be using these four forces to plan their future workforces.

This will help prepare them for the future world of work, as technology drives increasing change.

What do these four forces represent, in workplace terms, and how might we see them being used?

Graphic showing how to navigate the interplay of four forces to create a more future-ready workplace.
Four workplace forces – specialization, scarcity, rivalry and humanity – can help employers plan their workforces for the future. Image: PwC.

1. Specialization

Specialization is the expertise we gain to develop and succeed in the world. Workers have developed specialties since humans first farmed. Industrialization in the 19th and 20th centuries led to mass production, and increasingly specialized jobs and machines.

Today’s digital technologies make it easier for businesses to do what they do by collaborating with specialists in areas like data science and cyber security.

The key for employers is to anticipate the next stage of specialization. Otherwise, they might miss opportunities, or see the current skills in their organization lose value or become obsolete.

2. Scarcity

Scarcity covers the skills shortages that hold us back. And, again, this is nothing new - PwC gives the example of Europe in the mid-1300s, when bubonic plague killed about a third of the population. Serfs – agricultural labourers – stepped into the breach, helping to break down old feudal power systems.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled demand for labour in some industries and also a “great resignation” as workers look for new opportunities.

Changes in technology also drive scarcity. While automation is creating redundancies in some fields, others – like advanced technologies – have a growing need for workers.

Companies should evaluate, not just specialist skills in their workforce, but broad-based skills like leadership and management.

3. Rivalry

Rivalry is the reason workers choose one employer over another, such as more favourable rates of pay. When carmaker Henry Ford doubled his workers’ wages in 1914, he is said to have helped create America’s middle class, PwC notes.

Today, digital technology is creating new forms of workplace rivalry. Competition for technology workers, for example, spans multiple industries. And remote and hybrid working mean geographical boundaries are less of a barrier for employers.

To stand out as an employer, companies need to consider whether they might need a “very different” set of skills in the future to those they have today, PwC says.

4. Humanity

The Renaissance – rebirth – between the 14th to 17th centuries as Europe moved from the Middle Ages to modernity, brought in a new era of science and humanism, with a focus on people and society.

In a similar way, the pandemic has made millions of workers “re-evaluate what matters to them in an employer”, PwC says.

The growing global divide between rich and poor, in addition to climate change, is also increasing the urgency for employers to bring “meaning, humanity, societal impact, and inclusion” to their workforces.

This means companies have to think deeply about their culture and how they use this to connect with and engage workers.

Businesses that proactively hire diverse and inclusive workforces will also help themselves and society by addressing the challenges of specialization and scarcity, PwC adds.

humans vs machines at work workforce strategy
Humans will increasingly share the world of work with machines, finds the world Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020. Image: World Economic Forum.

The future of jobs

PwC’s analysis reflects key themes in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020.

This predicts that by 2025, the division of labour between humans and machines will displace 85 million existing jobs but create 97 million new ones.

Skills gaps will stay high because in-demand skills across jobs will continue to change, the Forum says. Critical thinking, analysis and problem-solving will be among the most wanted skills.

Accelerating technology adoption is driving the need to reskill workers. Half of all employees who remain in their roles are expected to need reskilling by 2025.

Companies are also contending with a ‘Great Resignation’ as record numbers of workers leave their jobs, the Forum says.

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