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Dec 19, 2018

The World Economic Forum has just released its annual Future of Jobs Report. Among the findings:

  • New, emerging jobs will increase their share of all jobs from 16 percent in 2018 to 27 percent in 2022. These include data scientists, AI and machine learning specialists, big-data specialists, process automation experts, robotics engineers, blockchain developers, e-commerce and social media specialists, and human-machine interaction designers.
  • Among the workforce employed by large firms “… 75 million jobs may be displaced … while 133 million additional new roles may emerge concurrently.”

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The World Economic Forum considers the period from now through 2022 to be the start of the fourth industrial revolution. The first started in the 18th century and was the age of steam, when goods moved from hand-made products to machine-based production. The second started in the 19th century and was the age of electricity and steel which enabled mass production. The third started in the middle of the 20th century when computers and digital technologies entered the workplace. The fourth industrial revolution is when new technologies like AI, advanced robotics, machine learning, and people everywhere connected by mobile devices, start to change how things are made and work is done.

Each revolution has had implications for the labor force. The fourth will increase the number of jobs that rely heavily on technology, but at the same time it will also increase the demand for jobs that require distinctively “human” skills such as creativity, critical thinking, negotiation, and social influence. That includes jobs such as customer-service workers, training and development specialists, sales and marketing professionals, financial and investment advisers, and product managers. The jobs most at risk are those that are routine and rules-driven including accountants, assembly and factory workers, HR specialists, and credit and loan officers.

Apocalypse Delayed

Predictions of automation displacing workers en masse tend to dominate reports on the future of jobs and workers, but the World Economic Forum report indicates only a gradual change in work done by people and machines. Uber and Lyft reduced the need for yellow-cab rides in New York by 75,000 between 2015 and 2017, but the overall number of taxi rides increased by 210,000 in the same period. Brick and mortar retailers shed about 146,000 jobs between 2007 and 2017, but over the same period e-commerce jobs, including those in fulfillment centers, grew by over 400,000. These jobs paid, on average, 30 percent more than what workers in stores earned. The evidence from history is that automation creates more and better-paying jobs than it destroys, as companies create new and better products and services, instead of just making existing ones at lower costs.

In 2018, an average of 71 percent of work (as measured by total task hours) was performed by humans, and 29 percent by machines. By 2022 this average is expected to have shifted to 58 percent by humans and 42 percent by machines. But the impact on workers will be to change how they do their work, not in wholesale replacement by either software or robots. That is augmentation of work by new technologies which leads to higher productivity and consequently new products and services.

Recruiters in 2022

In 2022 expect to be hiring a lot more real-estate agents, software engineers, marketing specialists, physical therapists, sales professionals, financial analysts, and yes — recruiters (The predicted No. 2 emerging role in professional services). As for those AI developers and data scientists, there will certainly be a surge in demand. But those jobs collectively represent less than half of one-percent of the workforce, so the numbers are small.

Despite a surge in recruiting automation technologies, several factors will continue to drive the demand for recruiting skills. Finding workers will become more challenging because of demographics. America, and much of the developed world, is graying, and the rate of population growth is slowing. Compounding the problem in the U.S. is the desire among millenials to retire early, on average, by age 56. The situation is worse in other developed countries where the populations will shrink or at best not grow at all. If these trends hold, and there’s no reason to expect otherwise, there simply won’t be enough workers to meet the demand from employers. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2022 more than half of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling.

Despite these realities, 84 percent of employers surveyed by the World Economic Forum expect to hire new permanent staff who come fully equipped with the skills needed that are relevant to new technologies. That goal may be impossible to achieve for many, but it won’t stop them from trying. The wars for talent of the past may seem tame in comparison to what’s coming. Dwindling supply and a huge need for finding workers who can adapt to new technologies will necessitate that recruiters develop new ways for finding talent, and better negotiation skills to get it hired, than ever before.

There was a time when recruiting meant placing an ad in the newspaper and waiting for resumes to show up in the mail. The main tools of an executive recruiter in the 1970s were a Dun and Bradstreet directory of companies and the phone book, and the job required hours of “smiling and dialing” every day. The profession has evolved a lot since then. Recruiters are in no danger of extinction so long as they continue to adapt.


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