The IMF and the Future of Work
It seems almost trite to write this but since March 2020 we have been living in truly extraordinary times.
What started out as an expected short term pause to the ‘normal way of things’ with a several weeks lockdown in the pleasant spring and early summer of 2020 has developed into something really quite different.
The ramifications of which, for many if not all of us, have been wide and pervasive. And it now feels like the world as we knew it in February 2020 is not going to be the world which we will get to know from 2021 and beyond.
From a business and wider economic sense, one of the biggest changes has been the way in which we work and the widespread adoption of technology to facilitate remote and agile working. Probably many more of us than we thought have, relatively seamlessly, moved to this new way of working; and many are feeling its benefits in terms of greater autonomy and flexibility and have little desire to go back to the pre Covid world of work – if that were even an option.
You may have missed this in the pre Christmas rush (which still made its presence felt, Covid restrictions or not) but the World Economic Forum (“WEF”)released its third detailed assessment of the world of work (The Future of Jobs Report) entitled The Jobs of Tomorrow. WEF is an arm of the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”) and so its data reach is broad and very deep. We may not agree with all of their views on economic trends, but we should take careful note of them and consider to what extent these shine a light on the challenges we face either as employees or employers.
The report concludes that the Covid impact has been in relation to five key related themes. In many ways, the period since March 2020 has ‘simply’ accelerated existing waves of change which were moving through societies and the businesses which operate in them.
The five areas are:
- The workforce is automating faster than expected. This will displace some jobs, but also….
- the robot revolution will create more new jobs.
- In 2025, analytical thinking, creativity, and flexibility will be among the most sought-after skills.
- The most competitive businesses will focus on upgrading their workers’ skills.
- Remote work is here to stay.
As with any change it is always much easier to identify what will be lost (in terms of jobs in this context) than what will be created (i.e. new jobs) so I think we should be a little wary of placing too much emphasis on headlines telling us that ‘Robots are taking over and it is the end of work!’ – or something along those lines.
These trends, if correct, raise a number of questions for businesses large and small.
From the discussions we are having with our clients these seem principally to be along the following lines:
- What can you do to generate the greatest productivity and efficiency improvements for any given level of investment?
- What are you going to do in relation to investing in and upskilling your workforce?
- How can you not only manage but benefit from the remote working revolution (which is certainly what it feels like for many)?
- What is likely to be the medium and longer-term impact on your business model and market from increased automation? Where are the challenges to be managed and the opportunities to be developed?
You might think that these changes aren’t going to impact you and your business. You may be right; but can any business really afford not to give them detailed thought and reflection?
Change can be unnerving, but history tells us that it is often the nursemaid of opportunity and there will doubtless be opportunities emerging from these developments over the next 5 years.
They could be of benefit to you.