30 Nov

Last month, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released its Future of Jobs 2020 report, which sensationally predicts half of job hours will be worked by physical or software robots by 2024. Released bi-annually, the report maps the jobs and skills of the future and attempts to track the pace of change. 

To many the WEF is an exclusive talk-fest in Davos where billionaires, politicians, executives, and celebrities fly in on private jets to plot world domination (angry teenage climate activists get there on trains). Less well known are the annual economic and business research documents the WEF produces, including the excellent The Future of Jobs Report now in its sixth year. 

Predicting how advances in technology will impact jobs can feel like crystal ball gazing. As Roy Amara famously pointed out, generally we overestimate how quickly a technology will be adopted and underestimate its impact. WEF researchers and economists gather hard data like workforce metrics, the rate at which certain technologies are being adopted and macro trends to anticipate how labor markets will move, so are better placed than most.

Three takeaways from WEF’s The Future of Jobs Report 2020.

  • There will be a “double-whammy” from the Covid-19 pandemic as many media and advertising embrace more automation.  The report found 43% of businesses plan to reduce jobs with better technology integration and 34% think it’ll help them grow their workforce. 

We think media agencies will accelerate to the new performance-based fees and retainers they’ve spent years asking for, with the rub being the need to have fewer staff to make a profit. We think that marketers, already stretched to cover the bases, are safer.

  • According to the companies surveyed for the report, job destruction is accelerating while job creation is slowing. Among the companies surveyed, it’s estimated that jobs that are considered “redundant” will reduce by a third. On the flip side, more modern skilled roles will nearly double. Based on this, the WEF thinks over 80 million human jobs could be displaced, while over 90 million jobs will be created that demand machine learning and data skills. 

If you’re a creative spending hours a week searching for references and images, or a media reconciler checking contract compliance, there’s a good chance the person coming to do your job in a few years time may not even work in a related role right now.

  • It’s not all bad news. Even with the high rates of job disruption forecast, many business leaders want to focus on re- and up-skilling their people so they can keep them.  The WEF data indicates that companies expect to re-skill half their teams that are displaced by technology. 

The big question for business leaders in our industry will be which half to keep, and for nervous employees it will be how to be on the right side of the cut. What skills are needed and where do they come from?

The pandemic while global is not being felt uniformly. As we move into 2021 its possible some of the angst in this year’s survey will ease in markets and industries that are moving into recovery, and revert to levels predicted in the 2018 report. However, it’s just as likely that CMO’s worldwide will be pressured to accelerate growth but without any increase in resources, leading to pressure to find more productivity/efficiency in their supply chains and partnerships. 

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