THE FUTURE OF WORK

The future of work can only be anticipated. By the year 2030, working habits will have radically evolved due to trends such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation, demographic changes and globalization. With this in mind, employees face several questions. What will happen to our job? Will our skills be needed in the future or will robots be able to take over our work through automation?

“When we shifted to mobile workstations, everyone was scared. After a couple of months, no one talked about it anymore. But you still have to listen to people and understand their fears to then address them with appropriate measures because change is always hard.”
Priska Burkard from Skills Finder, at the Spark Works Roundtable Event.

Due to its unpredictability, change is often accompanied by fear from those affected by it. This especially holds true for the concern that robots will take over humans’ jobs, as it is not entirely unfounded. In fact, according to the documentary “Humans Need Not Apply,” 45% of today’s jobs can be replaced by tomorrow’s technology. Among the jobs most vulnerable to automation are physical jobs in “predictable environments” including but not limited to operating machines and fast food preparation, as you can see in the graph below. In contrast to this, automation is less likely to affect occupations that require expertise (physicians/surgeons, lawyers) and human management (teachers) or frequent social interactions, as is necessary for providing child and elderly care.

The following section speculates the extent to which our working world will change, and which skills will still be in demand in 2030.

What will change by 2030

The future of work is currently a hot topic. Many researchers are working hard to predict how this will develop until 2030. Below are some important insights from the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and Dell Technologies’ research:

The Internet of Things (IoT) will shape our economy and the way we work
Management teams will replace individual managers, with a focus on developing a positive and integrative corporate culture
Employees will be rewarded on the basis of their expertise and results, not on the basis of their position and length of service and therefore have a growing personal interest in the success of their work
With the help of technology, assembly workers will wear technical equipment that measures their concentration, working speed, mood and physical energy
Social responsibility will shape the corporate agenda, with a focus on the environment and the well-being of people
The articles of association (a document that specifies the regulations of a company and determines the company’s aim) will be revised with a focus on ethical values and work-life balance
Learning and training will be flexible, personalised and collaborative
Employees and machines will work together in teams within their organization

Job automation in Switzerland by 2030

According to research by the McKinsey Global Institute, under conservative assumptions and an average value scenario based on technology benchmarks, about 1-1.2 million jobs (20-25% of all tasks in CH) could become automated by 2030.

Even though this number may frighten workers in Switzerland, according to the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and Dell Technologies, 85% of jobs in 2030 have not yet been invented. Therefore, the automation of 1.2 million jobs does not mean that there will be net job losses in Switzerland. Activities corresponding to some 400’000 new jobs could be created. These 400,000 jobs are linked to the technology itself (hardware/software), as well as companies implementing digital solutions. Additional 400,000 job equivalents could be established as automation and AI drive real income growth, stimulate consumption and increase demand for national jobs, leading to more economic growth.

Even more jobs could be created if digitalization were to increase the competitiveness of export sectors. According to McKinsey Studies, over the last 15 years, Switzerland has increased its exports from around 50 to 65% of GDP. The six largest export categories today are chemicals and pharmaceutical products, machinery, equipment and electronics, watches and precision instruments, financial services and tourism. Under the assumption that Switzerland can rapidly adopt digital technologies and increase its global competitiveness and exports, 20,000 to 70,000 jobs could be generated in an illustrative scenario by 2030. Today, around 1.4 million jobs in Switzerland depend on exports of these top six exporting sectors.


Export categories in Switzerland

Jobs in the retail and wholesale trade, in production, in the public sector and in finance could be most affected by technological changes. Together, these sectors account for around half of all employees and around 60% of Swiss GDP. An outlook by McKinsey projects to what extent these sectors could be affected:

→ Retail and wholesale trade: McKinsey estimates that 25 to 30% of all tasks in the Swiss retail and wholesale trade could be displaced by 2030. While rising incomes, consumption and technology-related job creation could create around 10% of new jobs, this is unlikely to be the case. Moreover, it will not be enough to compensate for the job losses. Total employment in this industry is expected to fall by  100,000 to 140,000 people employed in Switzerland.

→ Production. McKinsey’s analysis predicts that 25 to 30% of jobs in production could be ousted. This is almost twice as much as the percentage of new jobs created on average, so a net decline of around 15% is expected in this sector.

→ Public sector: The public sector is strongly affected by digitization and automation. In order to provide citizens with a faster and less complicated service, many processes are likely to become automated. Thus, McKinsey expects a net job reduction of 10 to 15%. However, in the health and education sector, the focus will be on improving quality and attracting resources to support further growth. Therefore, McKinsey’s studies indicate that a net job gain of 5 to 15% can be expected in the health sector. In the education sector, the number of employees is likely to remain stable.

→ Finances. Within Switzerland, automation could lead to a reduction of 30 to 40% of working hours in the financial sector. Based on the number of people employed in the financial sector in 2016, this would mean that up to 100,000 employees (out of a total of approx. 249,000) would lose their job. However, by 2030, McKinsey expects to see job growth of around 20,000 to 30,000. But this will not be enough to compensate for the decline in employment throughout the sector. Nonetheless, this growth could offer a significant competitive advantage if the Swiss banking and insurance industry maintains and improves its global competitiveness.

Which future skills, abilities and what knowledge will be demanded in 2030?

As previously described, artificial intelligence, automation, digitalization and technological developments as a whole will shape the future of work and impact the number of jobs. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial for employees to focus on skills that cannot be replaced or adopted by machines or robots. In a study, Nesta looks at skills that are in demand throughout companies and show the most promising outlook for future growth. In doing so, Nesta identifies the most desirable future work skills, abilities and knowledge, which cannot be fulfilled by machines and, yet, are essential to enhance business growth:

Skills

→ Judgment and decision making: Considering the relative costs and benefits of possible measures in order to select the most appropriate measure.
→ Active learning:
Understanding the implications of new information for problem-solving and decision-making in the present and future.
→ Learning strategies:
Choosing and applying appropriate situation-specific training/teaching methods and procedures whilst learning or teaching new things.
→ Complex Problem Solving
: Identifying complex issues and reviewing related information to develop, evaluate options and implement the desired solution.
→ System Analysis:
Determining how a system should perform and how changes in conditions, operations and the environment will affect results.
→ Monitoring
: Monitoring and evaluating one’s own performance, the performance of others as well as organisations in order to take the necessary measures of improvement or corrective action.
→ Critical Thinking:
To identify the strengths and weaknesses of different solutions, conclusions or problems with a logical and argumentative approach.
→ Instructing
: Teaching others.
→ Management of Personnel Resources:
Motivating, developing and guiding employees at work and identifying the most suitable people for a job.
→ Coordination
: Matching actions in relation to others’ actions.
→ Active Listening:
Paying full attention to what other people say, taking time to understand the points raised, asking questions if necessary and not interrupting when inappropriate.

Abilities

→ Fluency of Ideas: The ability to develop a range of ideas on a topic, e.g. through brainstorming. The amount of ideas is important, not their quality, correctness or creativity.
→ Originality
: The ability to come up with unusual or clever ideas about a particular topic or finding creative ways to solve a problem.
→ Deductive Reasoning
: The ability to apply general rules to problems and produce answers that make sense..
→ Inductive Reasoning
: The ability to combine different information into general rules or conclusions. This includes finding a connection between seemingly unrelated events.
→ Problem Sensitivity
: Recognizing when something is wrong or expected to go wrong. It is not about solving the problem but about realizing that there is a problem.

Knowledge

→ Education and Training: Knowledge of curriculum and training design methods, teaching or instructing individuals and groups as well as measuring the effects.
→ Administration and Management
: Knowledge of business and management principles involved in strategic planning, resource allocation, team formation, leadership techniques, production methods and the coordination of people and resources.

In summary: A company that wants to grow in the future will require high cognitive, social and emotional skills from their employees. Therefore, these so called “soft skills” become the new “hard skills” that are desired within our workforce.

Skills needed in the Future of Work

Conclusion

The future of work will bring many changes by 2030. These changes, driven by trends like digitalization, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, will influence what we work as and the way we work. Many jobs, especially in the retail and wholesale, production, public sector and finance sector, will become redundant. However, this technology shift will also create entirely new jobs by 2030.

As for whether human skills will still be needed in future –  the answer is yes. In fact, human skills like empathy, emotional intelligence, creativity, problem sensitivity, the skill of teaching, listening, understanding as well as many more will become increasingly crucial for enhancing company growth. In view of this, companies should train their employees to foster these skills and encourage employees to embrace the changes ahead.

Therefore, the aim is to combine both – an innovative future and humans.

“We are investing a huge amount of time into the innovation space but do not invest the time to make the people part of this journey. We need to bring these two things together.”
Jane Hoskisson from IATA at the Spark Works Roundtable Event.
Linda Armbruster
Managing Partner
Linda holds an M.A. in Strategic Design from the design akademie berlin. As a trained Design Thinker from the Potsdam and Stanford d.school, co-founder of Spark Works and lecturer at the ETHZ, she builds and leads research and training programs in the private and public sector, blending methods grounded in Human-Centered Design to inform and inspire insight-driven innovation.