Parents with children about to decide on which career they should choose often feel puzzled by the wide range of choices available. Many will tell their children to follow their hearts. The more pragmatic ones do some research to be armed with sensible advice on what skills the evolving economies are likely to demand in the coming decade and beyond.

It was just five years ago when Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, wrote an article entitled ‘Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution’. The maturing sciences of artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechno­logy, biotechnology, quantum computing, the Internet of Things and fully autonomous vehicles will bring dramatic changes in the future of work.

COVID has just accelerated the rate of change that we are likely to see in the modern workplace. The World Economic Forum (WEF), in its recent Jobs Report 2020, has some very sobering findings. According to the report, 85 million jobs will be displaced across 26 countries by 2025, while 97 million will be added.

The massive challenge for education policymakers and business leaders is how to channel our young people’s edu­cational efforts to make sure that they have the right skills to qualify for the 97 million projected new jobs. Hundreds of studies are being published by economists trying to predict the jobs that are likely to flourish in the future. Similarly, they try to predict which jobs may disappear or decline.

Some economists do not seem too worried about the burning social injustices that the labour market has inflicted on so many in the last few decades. They argue that we just have to learn to live with endemic economic uncertainty.

Employers may want to rely more on what one report described as “contingent worker expansion” as a cost-saving measure. The gig workers are already a reality that many consider as a regression in the way businesses treat workers. It is good that our minister of finance is focused on addressing the negative social consequences of our gig economy.

The pandemic has caused immense disruptions in some workplaces, deepening inequal­i­ties across society. Just to visua­lise the context of this year’s disruption, the pandemic destroyed more jobs in two months than the Great Depression in the US did in two years.

Governments need to ratchet up support schemes to protect workers during times of transition while helping to create the jobs of tomorrow

The WEF report predicts that by 2025, the 97 million new roles created will redefine the division of labour bet­ween humans, machines and algorithms in emerging industries, such as data and AI, as well as sales, marketing and content roles.

Whole industries that have shed jobs in the pandemic may never return to normality as consumer habits and health concerns alter their dynamics. Mass tourism may be one such industry. While politicians continue their frantic search for the Holy Grail of normality, it is the evol­ution of COVID that will determine the long-term future of many jobs. More than the traditional economic indicators, economic policymakers need to focus more on the medical indicators that we have learned to understand.

This will mean that almost half of all workers will need reskilling. Many employers are already investing heavily in reskilling their workers. This effort is increasingly focusing on online platforms and digital-first learning. Governments need to ratchet up support schemes to protect workers during times of transition while helping to create the jobs of tomorrow.

We need more adequate social safety nets to protect unemployed workers to enable them to reintegrate in the labour market. Governments must also identify investments in tomorrow’s industries that benefit society, like the green economy and the care economy.

The bedrock of this forward-looking strategy is the reform of the educational system, which is the only catalyst that will help promote the reskilling revolution that we need. Environmental, social and governance issues (ESG) need to move from being a quaint topic for management conference to mainstream strategic thinking.

This recession is different from any recession we have experienced previously. Instead of a slow, gradual slowdown in trade and production as we experienced in the 2008 recession, many countries are experiencing a sudden, massive drop in employment in the services sector.

Martha Gimbel, an expert US economist, argues: “Economists always want to know all the answers but this is one where we can’t – we are not epidemiologists. The virus path will be the leading indicator. It’s really important not to over-interpret what’s in the data right now.”

As we draw to the end of 2020, uncertainly continues to reign. But there is no stopping the reskilling revolution.

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