Originally this artice has been inspired by the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2020 and the EBS-sponsored panel discussion on the future of jobs that was held within the framework of the Forum. Being locked down, it is ever more interesting to look back and see what the world and its leading experts only recently thought about the future of jobs. What could have changed since then? We are experiencing our wishes come true at this very moment.
One of our current priority issues has become professional re-training and continued education of a billion of people in the next decade. What are the jobs of the future going to look like? This question has been exercising the minds not only of scientists and key economists, but of billions of people, billions of parents, too.
Will things that I am currently engaged into still be relevant in 10 years? What should the children be taught? How to adapt the system of education to changing environment and community demands? Will people have sufficient amount of work or are we going to be replaced by artificial intelligence?
Alongside other topics buzzing in our minds, these questions call for special attention and discussion.
A historian Yuval Noah Harari, who was a speaker at the Davos 2020 international conference, has presented to the public an idea that modern understanding of jobs is quite a new phenomenon which is not more than 200 years old. However, the common meaning of a job is undergoing transformation at this very moment. On the other hand, Harari has emphasized and continues to insist that the humankind should wake up to the risks linked to development of technologies. These risks are associated, among other, with the shift in the meaning of a job.
We are living in a global expectation that technologies are just about to take over the world and we will have nothing to do. While we are awaiting this, and while the technological development is progressing, our needs and wants are being adapted respectively. Looking at the developed markets, we see the growing demand for:

  • reduced working hours and working week;
  • work from home;
  • flexibility of work schedule.

It is obvious that this trend is rather accepted by employers than initiated by them. The topic is heartily supported in the society, and there is an impression that the future is already here or is about to come any moment now. Here it is: the wished-for level of freedom and flexibility, when one can work according to their internal needs and inspiration, and in favourable circumstances only. It is yet hard to assess the actual efficiency of such work pattern, since its scale is much smaller than it might look, and most likely every single company can assess the efficiency of work patterns for itself. However, the demand displays the level of emotions in the society. You get the impression that the Generation Y and the Millenials have had enough of watching the Gen X and are totally opposed to the idea of living in the illusion of freedom, climbing the career ladder and depriving themselves of the possibility to enjoy life and results of their labour.
Thus, it seems that the amount of work is shrinking and one can perform it in a different way.
However, for many people remote working while locked down turned out to be not as sweet as it had been imagined:

  • despite the opportunity to work from home and the employers expediting it, for many people the very fact that this state of things has been forced on them and they have been deprived of any choice, turned out to be stressful;
  • for many people work from home has become stressful due to: lack of focus and concentration; lots of unwanted distractions, e. g. one can be distracted by children and other family members; difficulty in being as disciplined when working from home as one used to be in normal working environment;
  • on the other hand, despite apparently saving the time that was previously spent for commuting in heavy traffic, many people admit not using this saved time in their remote work and actually working longer hours;
  • and finally, if anyone had doubts with regard to this, remote work has shown the immense effect of deficiency in normal human interaction on the people’s emotional state.

On the other hand, we can’t deal with this subject solely in the context of developed countries, Europe and North America. If we extend the scope of the question, whether we are going to work less in the next decade or the common 40-hour working week is likely to be preserved on the globe, we will see that for many countries it would be an accomplishment to implement a 40-hour working week which is so common to us. In some countries of Asia and Latin America people can work 80 or more hours per week.
So, what can we reasonably expect in the next decade? It should be admitted that the era of digital transformation is at its height. This means that the transformation hasn’t yet been completed and we are now at one stage of a long journey. Anticipation of quick changes demands increasingly more hours of human intelligence necessary to create AI. Over the next years we can expect an ever-growing demand for IT professionals. At the same time life expectancy and the value of life in our eyes is increasing, which means that there will be a growing demand for biotechnology professionals.
We can expect indeed that an increasing number of simple, repeating, routine and algorithm-fueled tasks will be performed by robots. On the other hand digitalization of society and communications builds up extra demand for all jobs related to competent and professional human communication.
Humanity is in the process of creating its dream, and it is being enwrapped by this process. Whereas, those who are enthusiastic are likely to work a lot.
So, what hardships are we going to encounter?
Anyone experienced in transformation and automation at a large company knows that any commendable technological initiatives can fail due to human factor. This signifies the fact that today, too, the pace at which technologies are developing and entering our lives is, among other, limited by the number of trained competent staff that can not only create these technologies but also implement, use, maintain and service them.
What has the COVID crisis demonstrated us in this regard so far?
First, humanity has been surprisingly ready for it from the perspective of digital transformation, which made plausible the very idea of mass-scale remote work and learning. Even deep-rooted conservatives quickly became familiar with new tools.
Second, we have ever more acutely felt digital dependance of modern society.
At the same time, falling into a recession, the society apparently began to focus on the most important things and somewhat slowed down the pace of technological development, cutting its demand for IT in a short-term perspective.
We should be ready to the need of additional training and retraining in the near future. It will probably be harder for the people with established professional careers compared to those who are at the very start of their career journey. But this does not mean that it can be avoided, unless you want the wave of these changes to cast you ashore.
Besides being prepared to change, learn and develop non-stop, one should realize that it will need funding. Here’s where corporate training steps in. The primary interest of a business should be in quick re-training of its staff to cover the company’s needs. It is hard to imagine a company of the future that has not embedded corporate training into its daily routine, making it more than just a competitive strategy. Speaking about education, one can hardly expect that the global educational systems will be able to adapt that quickly. However we can guide children and teach them those skills that will definitely be required by the future society:

  • Emotional intellect, ability to understand and express emotions;
  • Critical thinking, ability to analyse and challenge;
  • So-called soft skills, social intelligence;
  • Flexibility and adaptability.

Speaking of flexibility, we can say that the current crisis gives impact to reassessment of conceptual approaches towards education and scholarship in almost all countries of the world. And it will be hard to imagine that tomorrow we can easily go back into two days ago in terms of how the training process is arranged.
The latter is especially worth noting. Growing life expectancy and increasingly fast dynamics of changes in the society no longer allows us to presume that it can be enough for anyone to be trained in one profession, become expert in it, build a classical career and earn their living throughout the whole life. In all likelihood the majority of people will have to build a few careers and change a few occupations during their lives. The main concepts to be taught to children are: the need to continuous learning and the ability to quickly switch over to new things. By the way, this doesn’t concern children alone. These skills should immediately be acquired by the people in their 40s and 30s.
And when the “Working paradise” is here, will humankind be able to readjust its typical lifestyle? Is the work primarily linked to catering for basic daily needs? Or is there much more to it? Will we be able to discard, after having a taste of them, the need to be useful and in demand, to have the purpose of existence, aim and mission?
The fact is, that in the last 200 years, despite the life becoming increasingly better, the amount of work was progressively growing. Without looking into a distant future, it is safe to predict that in the next decade we are rather going to face lack of well-trained resources than the jobs deficit.
And although COVID-19 is going to change this prediction in a short-term perspective, the overall trend is still unaltered.
The tendency remains the same: well-trained experts are in demand in all spheres of business, and it’s hard to find those willing to employ people who do not want to work. But the motivation to grow will make everyone reconsider their priorities and adapt to the world that is changing faster than we are.

Helen Volska, Managing Partner and Director