- Employers worldwide are working out how their businesses will change due to automation over the next four years, according to the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs 2018 (WEF) report — a survey of 313 companies representing more than 15 million employees in 19 countries.
- The most common technologies that respondents expect to adopt in their move toward automation by 2022 are big data analytics (85%), app- and web-enabled markets (75%), IoT, machine learning and cloud computing (73%). Nearly a quarter (23%) of respondents expect to employ humanoid robots in that time.
- Supply chain and logistics specialist positions are safe in the age of automation, according to WEF — in fact the report calls this field "emerging".
The caveat often offered in response to angst about the jobs that will be lost to automation is that technology creates jobs too. Robots and hardware-based IoT solutions require programming, servicing and monitoring. And though the WEF report sounds optimistic about the developing relationship between workers and automated technologies, the numbers are less so.
"Work currently performed by humans is being augmented by machine and algorithmic labour. Responses from employers surveyed for this report can be interpreted as evidence for the increasing viability of what a number of experts have called an 'augmentation strategy,'" says the report.
In other words, rather than focusing on the tasks automation can take over, WEF says that these technologies will likely speed up and streamline existing work in the near term (the report looks at just the next four years). That doesn't mean, however, that job losses won't ensue.
Half of the employers surveyed expect to reduce their workforces due to automation by 2022, while 28% expect to hire more employees for the same reason. It is important to note though that 38% of respondents expect to add workers by 2022 regardless of automation.
The tasks most likely to transfer from human to machine by 2022 are "physical and manual work activities." Today 31% of those tasks are performed by machines — and 48% will be by 2022. "Complex and technical activities" will transfer to machines as well, though to a slightly lesser extent, going from 21% performed by machine to 36%. Communication is the task that will lose the least ground to machines in the near-term.
But these trends are not out of employers' control, insists the report. Automation should be adopted with a strategy in mind and proactive attitude toward reassigning workers.
"While individual companies may not have the option to disconnect their corporate strategy from the fundamental trajectory of these wider trends, such as the unfolding Fourth Industrial Revolution, they do, however, have the possibility of formulating a proactive response. Two investment decisions, in particular, will be crucial to shaping the future of jobs: the question of whether to prioritize automation or augmentation and the question of whether or not to invest in workforce reskilling," says the report.