The Future of Jobs 2020 report has found that Covid-19 has caused the labour market to change faster than expected. The research released by the World Economic Forum indicates that what used to be considered the “future of work” has already arrived.

By 2025, automation and a new division of labour between humans and machines will disrupt 85 million jobs globally in medium and large businesses across 15 industries and 26 economies. Roles in areas such as data entry, accounting and administrative support are decreasing in demand as automation and digitization in the workplace increases. More than 80% of business executives are accelerating plans to digitize work processes and deploy new technologies; and 50% of employers are expecting to accelerate the automation of some roles in their companies. In contrast to previous years, job creation is now slowing while job destruction is accelerating.

Some 43% of businesses surveyed indicate that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration, 41% plan to expand their use of contractors for task-specialized work, and 34% plan to expand their workforce due to technology integration.

By 2025, employers will divide work between human and machines equally. Roles that leverage human skills will rise in demand. Machines will be primarily focused on information and data processing, administrative tasks and routine manual jobs for white- and blue-collar positions.

Despite the current economic downturn, most employers recognize the value of reskilling their workforce. An average of 66% of employers surveyed expect to see a return on investment in upskilling and reskilling of current employees within one year. They also expect to successfully redeploy 46% of workers within their own organization. “In the future, we will see the most competitive businesses are the ones that have invested heavily in their human capital – the skills and competencies of their employees,” said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum.

Currently, only 21% of businesses worldwide are able to make use of public funds for reskilling and upskilling programmes. The public sector will need a three-tiered approach to help workers. This includes providing stronger safety nets for displaced workers, improving the education and training systems and creating incentives for investments in markets and the jobs of tomorrow.

Some 84% of employers are set to rapidly digitalize working processes, including a significant expansion of remote working. Employers say there is the potential to move 44% of their workforce to operate remotely.

According to the report, 78% of business leaders expect some negative impact on worker productivity. This suggests that some industries and companies are struggling to adapt quickly enough to the shift to remote working caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

To address concerns about productivity and well-being, about one-third of all employers said they will take steps to create a sense of community, connection and belonging among their employees.

The research also indicated that a growing number of people are making career changes to entirely new occupations. According to LinkedIn data gathered over the past five years, some 50% of career shifts into data and artificial intelligence are from different fields. That figure is much higher for sales roles (75%), content creation and production positions, such as social media managers and content writers (72%), and engineering roles (67%).

"As we think about ways to upskill or transition large populations of the workforce who are out of work as a result of Covid-19 into new, more future-proofed jobs, these new insights into career transitions and the skills required to make them have huge potential for leaders in the public and the private sector alike,” said Karin Kimbrough, Chief Economist at LinkedIn.

“Our research reveals the majority of transitions into jobs of tomorrow come from non-emerging jobs, proving that many of these jobs are more accessible than workers might think, Kimbrough continued. “If we can help individuals, and the leaders who are directing workforce funding and investment, identify the small clusters of skills that would have an outsized impact on opening up more sustainable career paths, we can make a real difference in addressing the unprecedented levels of unemployment that we're seeing globally.”

According to The Future of Jobs Survey, core skills such as critical thinking, analysis and problem-solving are consistently top of the reskilling and upskilling priorities for educators and businesses. Newly emerging in 2020 are skills in self-management such as resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.

Data from Coursera suggests that individuals could start gaining the top 10 skills for each emerging profession in people and culture, content writing, sales and marketing in one to two months. Those wishing to expand their skills in product development and data and artificial intelligence could do so in two to three months, and those switching into cloud computing and engineering could make headway in the new skillset through a four to five-month learning programme.

There has been a fourfold increase in the number of people seeking opportunities for online learning under their own initiative, a fivefold increase in employers offering their workers online learning opportunities and a ninefold enrolment increase in people accessing online learning through government programmes.

Those in employment are placing larger emphasis on personal development courses; those unemployed have placed greater emphasis on learning digital skills such as data analysis, computer science and information technology.

"The pandemic has accelerated many of the trends around the future of work, dramatically shrinking the window of opportunity to reskill and transition workers into future-fit jobs,” said Hamoon Ekhtiari, CEO of FutureFit AI. “No matter what prediction you believe about jobs and skills, what is bound to be true is heightened intensity and higher frequency of career transitions especially for those already most vulnerable and marginalized.”