The Future of Work

March 2, 2021

The World Economic Forum recently published the report The Future of Jobs. In its 163 pages, the document strengthens the Covid-19 pandemic impact in the governments', companies' and, especially, in the workers' life - in a window of five years. According to the report, the new illness has sped up the technological advance in one decade, that is why the urgency in acting.

Five Years. Half of a decade. It is a period excessively short to promote the necessary adaptations for tomorrow, being these changes in the Countries' laws, the companies processes or peoples' skills.  This triad walks together: when one is affected by a crisis, the others suffer the consequences.

Almost 45% of the corporations that participated in the World Economic Forum said that they plan to reduce the job vacancies up to 2025. It is estimated that until there 85 million work positions could be substituted by machines. With more jobless people, the larger will be the pressure on governments for social policies that support, mainly, the consumption - the capitalism engine.

Although the rhythm of destroyed jobs surpasses the created number of “tomorrow jobs”, the technology also generates opportunities. At the same document, 35% of the companies affirmed that they must increase labor due to technology integration: 97 million new roles can appear, more suitable to the new division of tasks between people and robots. In 2025, the Forum foresees the time expended in labor tasks by real employees and by the ones of screws and algorithms will be equal. There are several impacts of this phenomenon on the value chains, world geographies and the range of the professional activities.

To glimpse the future is a faith exercise on the movements that we long for to testify and, at the same time, an influenced bet to still unknown variables. On the other hand, to foresee the future also requires analysis of the historical facts, the economic cycles, and the diffuse structured movements in the trifler context of the short-term volatility.

Looking at a 20-year horizon, it is possible to think about tomorrow considering about three category factors: macroeconomics and society, technology, and businesses. And our journey starts here.

The Role of Work

Imagining a world without work, in which the humanity would live its entire capacity around art, philosophy and religion, and nothing more is an illusion.

There had always been and there will always be the work concept - although it has suffered changes in target, space and meaning.

To work in the tribal collectivist contexts was different from submitting it to great enslaved groups by rich powers. Familiar craftsmen are nothing compared to the laborers in the industries of the XVIII and XIX Centuries. And the performance of the digital talent in startups is distinct from the service provided by public institutions.

The weight given to the drudgery also has been a “wandering metamorphosis”. In the times of kings, noblemen and priests, it was unwanted and depreciated, considered as an attribution of those ignorant poor souls and, in its majority, overwhelmed. The employees, such as the animals, offered their motor traction to the different activities to be carried through.

In the industrial society, the work was alienated and was massified by repetitive processes, but, at the same time, it became the main vehicle of social mobility. People born in the edges of the society could conquer social and economic status with the fruits of their efforts, as they were promoted. The middle class, after all, was not formed by impoverished rich, but by poor enriched people.

The work has not always raised the spirit, but it has taken to conquests millions of individuals. However, the intrinsic value of the effort has been decreasing. It is evident just by observing the depreciation of the purchasing power of young in face of the inexorable inflation of assets (automobiles and properties) and goods and services (education and health). It has never been easy to be a worker, and it will never be - despite its social and emotional rewards by feeling inserted in the context, exactly by the role of work.

The scenario as a whole

To unveil the essential skills of the XXI Century, it is necessary to understand eight trends that already influence the world dynamics of work, the Chinese supremacy, the strangulation of the middle class and the reliable crisis in the organizations.

Shanghaiskyline, China - Photo: Getty Images

1. Supreme Dragon

In the next years, China will reach the global economic supremacy. Throughout the last decades, the Chinese nation has extended its influence on beyond the international trade, internal consuming market and low-cost manufacturing. Technology, military force, and investments in infrastructure form the tripod that will take the country to the supremacy.

China is currently the country that has grown more in the world: its participation in the global GDP has grown from 4 % to 17% in last the 20 years. The Chinese investments in scientific research has grown 18% per year on average - in the United States, the increase was of 4 % between 2000 and 2015. Some of the main global startups are Chinese, rivaling shoulder to shoulder with the American pairs. Moreover, the country already figures between the three larger military powers of the planet, with an increase in the budget for the Armed Forces of 118% in the last decade. In relation to the infrastructure, it is expected that China will be  responsible for one third of all the global investment up to 2040 in its zones of influence in Africa and Asia.

Photo:Getty Images

2. Dematerialized Wealth

Fundamental pillar of the economic theories of the XVIII and XIX Centuries,  work is even less relevant to the wealth generation, with unknown impacts in the societies based on allocation of manpower. Approximately 1.7 million of jobs had been lost in the world between 2000 and 2016. In the United States, the participation of the work in the production fell from the 64 % in 1951 to 57 % in 2016.

Companies with bases in technology platforms develop digital models with even lesser necessity of workers.

In 2019, while the Walt Disney added 199 thousand employees and market value around 163 billion dollars, Facebook counted on 35 thousand employees and its market value reached 473 billion dollars. At the same time, the shared economy has also reduced the production and the consumption. The forecast is that, in 2025, the income in the shared economy income will be like the traditional services sectors. The worldwide economic dynamics in the XXI Century will be more and more dematerialized - and even the wealth concept will need to be reassessed. The universe of the intangible assets is the universe of the ideas.

Photo:Getty Images

3. Average Broken up

The economic growth based in bits and bytes has affected the middle class. It is observed the reduction of this class all over the world, with an increase of income unevenness between super-rich and the excluded ones (also digital excluded), and power of consumption decline, provoked by inflation. In three decades, the middle-class families’ total income dropped 25% in relation to the high class' total income, also resulting in a larger indebtedness. In Brazil, 28% of middle-class families spend more than they earn, while in the Unites States this rate is of 21%.

From the corporative point of view, small and middle companies have presented difficulties in growing, losing market share either to great corporations, that act aggressiveness in merger and acquisitions, or to startups, that insist on defying existing sectors fundamentals.

Photo:Getty Images

4. Institutional Scourge

In a context more and more centered in the individual, the traditional humanity psycho-social anchors (family, community, nation and spirituality) are in check. Entities such as church, government, school, press and even corporations are defied and discredited by general population. In the United States, the reliable level in the traditional institutions has been falling consistently. Churches and Congress has had a reduction of 31% and 35% respectively in their trust level during the last ten years, while military organizations have lost 11%.

Families are even smaller and the parcel of people living alone has been escalating since the 1960's. Sweden presents a good example: in Stockholm, 60 % of the domiciles were formed by just one person in 2012.

Photo:Getty Images

5. Quantum Matrix

The quantum computing will defy more and more the biological organisms. The new matrix will have as axle the artificial intelligence, connecting everything to everyone. The interconnected and hyperintelligent world will create its own realities, transforming, also, the human conscious about themselves.

The digital information created by human beings reached a similar magnitude to the biological information in the biosphere. Since the 1980’s, the amount of stored data has folded at each 2.5 years, reaching about 5 zettabytes in 2014. The investments in neuroscience startups have been growing significantly and it is expected that the neurotechnology market will reach more than 39 billion dollars in 2035, stimulated by brain-computer interface technologies.

Photo:Getty Images

6. Synthetic Humanity

Species evolution do not jump in nature. However, the humanity is really walking to the acceleration of the natural movements, connecting digital and synthetic devices to the biological form. The new species (that I call Cybernetic Universe) will mix composition: molecular and digital, organic, and synthetic. Perhaps immortality, after all, is not so far, at least from the neural point of view.

The own combat to aging approaches is close to the symbiosis between organic and cybernetic. The investments on life prolongation and well-being have grown to a rate of 64% per year. An example of this junction is the forecast that the Paralympics athletes (with the evolution of their technological prosthesis) will be faster than the Olympics athletes in 2068. The money placement in the longevity startups has increased 65% per year from 2013 to 2018, reaching about 800 million dollars. As far as artificial organs are concerned, the forecasts are an income up to 18 billion dollars in 2040.

Photo:Getty Images

7. Disruptive Ecosystems

The great enterprise was the whooping cough of the XX Century. Its merit was to provide productivity profits and innovation jumps, both instruments to the social welfare improvement. For any other reason, the societies celebrated the large companies, while governments legislated for them. In the XXI Century, however, the open ecosystems seem to be more adequate to the new status quo.

Structures in ecosystems congregate even more the services with focus on the necessities of the final consumer in a more efficient way than the traditional models. In 2016, from the 126 global unicorns (startups evaluated in more than 1 million dollars) 58% acted in an ecosystem way. It is esteemed that in 2040, 50 % of the 500 more valuable companies’ income in the American stock market, listed by Standard & Poor's agency, will be generated by these platforms. The rupture of linear models will be related to the appearance of the sprouting of the non-traditional productive ecosystems.

Photo:Getty Images

8. Irrational Abundance

The global social security is declared insolvent by the combination of the aging population and the reduction of the formal work. The solution to this problem involves greater average real yield of the pension funds. Their managers are reducing the money allocation in fixed income to a larger exposition to risks, including alternative assets (as venture capital funds and private equity, among others). This excess of liquidity floods the private and public stock markets in the whole world, reducing interest rates and offering abundant capital to the high-risk enterprises.

Among the 16 largest public pension funds of the world, the allocation in these domestic funds dropped from 30% in 2008 to 22% in 2016. On the other hand, the exposition in stocks negotiated in foreign stock markets raise from 12 % to 18% in the same period. The alternative investments must reach about 14 trillion dollars in 2020, with an increase of 11% per year in the past 15 years.

Companies’ Vision.

The pandemic that marked the year 2020 deeply affected the way we live and work, perhaps forever. But, independently of the sanitary crisis, the global economic recession that has been dragging for years brings many uncertainties for the world of work. Decades ago, the industrial revolution equally brought this insecurity, but it turned out to generate millions of jobs in the services sectors. In the next years, the digital revolution does not seem to have the same impetus of creating services. And, even if it were created, it will still be necessary an ample and unrestricted process of requalification and improvement of the current work force.

When the giant global of technology (mainly Google and Facebook) articulate together with the Legislative in favor of the creation of a digital tax - as transfer mechanism of income to the digital excluded - it is already a signal of new times. Such organizations have comprehended that they will be responsible for the destruction of millions of jobs and they do not desire to be transformed into the villains of the XXI Century.

At the same time, governmental authorities have equally understood that radical seeds are planted in the popular masses without hope. Therefore, to guarantee work seems to be the main element for quarrels of public policies in the world.

Bearing this in mind, it is worth to reflect about some of the report conclusions of The Future of Jobs, by the World Economic Forum.

1. Technological impact

The technology adoption keeps evolving in a frantic rhythm. Cloud computing, data analytics and e-commerce remains as priorities for investments. And it has increased the economic interest for cryptography, non-humanoid robots, and artificial intelligence. Even the traditional industrial services companies are in search of digital vectors.

The digitized work is a reality: 84 % of the employers are ready to digitize the processes, also meaning an expansion of home office - with potential to move 44 of employees to operate remotely. To deal with the concerns on productivity and well-being, about 33 % of the employers are investing in mechanisms to create a sense of community, connection and belonging between employees.

The unemployment rhythm worries, with more jobs being destroyed than created. Companies foresee that, in 2025, redundant functions will be diminished from 15% of work force to 9% (a fall of approximately 40%), and that the emerging professions will raise from 8% to 13.5% (an increase of about 75%) of the total employee’s base.

2. New Skills

Nine out of ten business-oriented leaders expect that the employees acquire new skills. The most desired up to 2025 include critical and analytical thought, as well as resolution of problems, active learning, resilience, tolerance to stress and flexibility. On average, the company believes that about 40 % of workers will need requalification, thinking that a course of six months would be enough to cover the gap of abilities.

Among the dismissed workers, the search for training has being concentrated in the digital skills, as data analysis, computer science and information technology. However, among the employees, the largest emphasis is in the development of soft skills (behavior abilities) - a jump of 88% in the last two years.

3. People development plan

In general, the window of opportunity to requalify and improve the workers has become shorter, according to the World Economic Forum. Learning is more and more distancing from real events and moving to the digital way. It has increased in four times the number of individuals looking for online training by their own initiative; in five times the offer of virtual courses by the companies to their employees; and in nine times the number of pupils who have accessed online development by means of governmental programs.

Despite the current economic crisis, the great majority of the employers recognizes the value of the investment in human capital. Around 65% of the companies expect to get a return on the investment in qualification and requalification within 12 months. On average, executives plan to train more than 70% of their employees up to 2025. However, the involvement of workers in these courses is diminishing, with only 42% of the employees taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the employer.

To the World Economic Forum, the public sector needs to act in a more robust way in the qualification of workers at risk or digitally dislocated. Currently, only 21% of the companies report to be capable of accessing governmental funds to support their employees in the development. The public sector will need to create both incentives for investments and jobs of tomorrow. It will also need to supply stronger social assistance to the dislocated workers in the middle of the job transitions. And, obviously, to face the reforms long postponed in the basic education and professional formation systems.

One Guide for The XXI Century

Five recommendations to the companies reach the success today and tomorrow, from my book Anthesis (e-galáxia, 445 págs.):

AGILITY - To be agile means to possess capacity of replying to the innovations of the competitors, to make interactive planning (looking at the necessities of the customer and involving the user), to have rapidity of adaptation to the new forms of production and work relations and acting systemically to identify competitors nothing obvious. To know how to incorporate this ability will allow the organizations to re-position strategically and in a continued way. Being or not exposed to the digitization, being agile will be critical to the survival.

CONTRIBUTION - The contribution canalizes the energy of people to the accomplishment of the work, reducing brainstorming by affinity or fear of conflict to keep the friendship relations. Decentralized, but interconnected processes, independent teams and collective goals stimulate the search for long term profits and form the favorable conditions to the innovation. And being innovate in an ecosystem context, with multiple actors, requires the contribution of complementary force to help the organizations to adapt themselves to the transformations.

MINIMALISM - the operation based on networks brings explicit benefits of cost, in comparison to the companies whose business models are sedimented in the concepts of the industrial society. While the industrial focus is on the physicist, with high capital investment and lesser margins, the new digital one’s place money in technology and human capital, with low cost for raising scalability. Being minimalist is not an option anymore, but a premise in the transforming digital journey.

EXPERIMENTATION - To breach the constraints and the retaliation to error allows people to test new solutions or ways to make things. The leaderships stimulation is important, as well as the celebration of the imperfections. The experimentation feeds the innovation and contests the stability of traditional processes; it defies the value chain’s centralization and threats the privileged positions by status and power.

POIKILOTHERM - From the Greek poikilo, varied, diverse; and therm, heat. It refers to the animals whose body temperature varies according to the environment. In extremely hot climates, for example, they are lethargic to escape the heat. Passive companies to the external changes can enter in an implosive inertia - although they, at first, seem to be safe and steady. The expectations and necessities of the customers change rapidly - and to personalize experiences, having clarity of the desired journey of consumption, based on modular technology and processes, will breach this organizational apathy.

One Look at People.

The annual meeting of World Economic Forum in 2020 had as theme Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World, approaching the ten more excellent modern skills in our society - so defied by technological, social, and economic movements.

The socioemotional abilities are not new but has become relevant as the future of the job is dissociated of the future of the work. Yes, in the digital world, work and job is separated. A person can have a work but does not have a job.

Robots and intelligent algorithms will assume even more labor activities monopolized before by human beings - from the most brutal (as oil exploration in deep waters, or mining and agriculture) to the most bureaucratic (information processing, document filling and central telephonic attendance). But this does not imply the end of the work.

The work will probably be associated to what differentiates us as human beings in relation to the intelligent machines: the creative mind, unusual thought, timely action, the unexpected, the comic, the tragic, the relation.

In fact, the contemporary job requires qualification and requalification.  From the simple act of selling to the performance in a budget approval meeting: the human being interaction develops and differentiates throughout the time, adapting itself to the new imperative placed by the rebel context that will follow without our control.

In the end, we will have a work life with more bossa in the middle of the et cetera.

Socioemotional Abilities

The best way of being and acting to navigate in the future uncertainties.

1. Creativity

2. Originality

3. Initiative

4. Critical thought

5. Persuasion

6. Negotiation

7. Attention to the details

8. Resilience

9. Flexibility

10. Resolution of complex problems

Essential Abilities

What all professional needs to have to remain relevant up to 2025, according to the World Economic Forum

1. Analytical thought and innovation

2. Active learning and strategies of learning

3. Creativity, originality, and initiative

4. Projects and technology programming

5. Analysis and critical thought

6. Resolution of complex problems

7. Leadership and social influence

8. Emotional intelligence

9. Reasoning, resolution of problems and ideation

10. Analysis and evaluation of systems.

Reflecting on the list of abilities, I could not help reminding the book A Whole New Mind, written by the American thinker Daniel Pink 15 years ago. In this book, one of my favorites of all times, it is approached the excellent abilities in a new digital context. In those times, stimulated exactly by the book, I have carefully directed an enterprise for digitization of what would become the BMI Blue Management Institute and, more recently, the Bossa.etc.