Pandemic speeds up human vs. machine standoff over jobs, WEF study says

As automation and online work gain ground, organizers of the annual Davos World Economic Forum are projecting employers will split work equally between machines and people by 2025, with the coronavirus pandemic accelerating changes in the labor market.

The World Economic Forum, in a report released Wednesday on the future of jobs, expects that a new division of labor between humans and machines will upend and eliminate some 85 million jobs globally across 15 industries. But it also expects that 97 million new roles will emerge in sectors like artificial intelligence, content creation and “the care economy” involving children and the elderly.

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Meanwhile, In distant future, a possible reality

Two years ago, the forum predicted more jobs created 133 million — and fewer lost — 75 million.

In essence, the rate of job destruction has gone up and the rate of job creation has gone down,” said WEF managing director Saadia Zahidi. “The good news is that overall, the jobs that are being created still are in greater numbers than the jobs that are being destroyed. But the rate has changed and that’s obviously going to make it difficult for workers to find their next role.”

The forum, an event organizer and think tank, says jobs involving data entry, accounting and administrative support are set to decline, while it pointed to upsides for “front-line workers” like nurses, grocery store workers, postal workers and care workers who have shown their importance during the COVID-19 crisis.

But sectors like aviation and tourism, which have been “on pause” during the crisis, could come under intense pressure if the COVID-19 crisis continues, leading to permanent job losses, she said.

Meanwhile, automation is taking on a greater importance in the global economy overall.

The COVID-19 crisis has had a far worse impact on people with lower education than the 2008 financial crisis, and is more likely to deepen inequalities, the report said.

The report calls on governments to do more to help workers by strengthening social safety nets, boosting educational offerings and providing incentives to invest in the jobs of tomorrow.

Conducted with private-sector partners, WEF’s report is based on projections from business executives, generally in human relations and strategy divisions, representing nearly 300 companies worldwide that employ some 8 million people.

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