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Pandemic speeding automation; impact on jobs could worsen inequality

October 29, 2020

New analysis from the World Economic Forum (WEF) forecasts an 85 million global loss in jobs by the year 2025 due to pandemic-induced increase in technology adoption. While social distancing measures such as remote work have already brought many white collar workers into the “future of work,” the quickened pace of technology adoption and automation across all sectors will create greater employment challenges for lower paid and lower skilled workers. The WEF’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 also indicates that the jobs created to work with these new technologies could reach 97 million by 2025. However, business leaders and the public sector must take action to promote equitable workforce development and prepare all workers for the jobs of the future.

While the bulk of the report takes a global perspective, the WEF also provides several country-specific profiles. The trends in the U.S. profile indicate that 57.6 percent of companies surveyed are accelerating the automation of tasks in response to the pandemic, and 91.5 percent are accelerating the digitization of work processes, while only 44.1 percent are implementing upskilling and reskilling programs. As companies increasingly rely on technology — and the use of technology — to complete essential business functions, displaced workers will face increasing demand for new, technology-based skills.

Unskilled workers are at particular risk of losing their jobs to technology, along with women and young workers. Although the report excludes an explicit analysis of race and ethnicity, the authors cite research supporting the conclusions that minorities also face greater economic risks from the pandemic and technology adoption. However, the increased demand for tech-savvy employees is not restricted to unskilled workers. As seen in the image below, several skilled jobs — such as accountants and auditors, and mechanics and machinery repairers — are also among the WEF’s list of increasingly redundant job roles.

Without intervention, the authors conclude that inequality will worsen as individuals at the lower end of the skill and pay scales are left behind as their companies modernize and cut redundant jobs. While many companies have increased their own on-the-job and organized skills training programs, more must be done by both the private and public sectors to ensure inclusive employee training and growth regardless of income, prior skills, or educational attainment.

jobs, automation