GENEVA: Experts on Tuesday called for urgent reskilling and upskilling of the global workforce, warning that major changes to the world of work in the next few years will see job losses outpace growth.
Economists, ministers and policymakers gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, on the first day of the World Economic Forum’s “Growth Summit: Jobs and Opportunities for All” to discuss the state of the job market and future opportunities and challenges ahead.
During the event, Saadia Zahidi, managing director at the WEF, argued that looking at macro-trends such as advancement of technology, green transition and shifting supply chain, over the next few years “about a quarter of the jobs that currently exist will be disrupted in some form of the other.”
She said that although some jobs would be lost and others added, the picture “seems manageable, provided that we focus on the reskilling and upskilling of workers. The future of jobs may be disruptive, but it need not be dystopian.”
According to a new report released on Sunday by WEF, within the next five years 23 percent of jobs will be disrupted, with an estimated 83 million roles disappearing and only 69 million emerging, equal to a net decrease of 14 million jobs, or 2 percent of current employment.
The “Future of Jobs 2023” report suggests that while certain sectors such as green transition and localization of supply chains will create new jobs, economic challenges — such as high inflation, slower economic growth and supply shortages — represent the greatest threat.
WEF’s report predicts that the fastest-growing jobs in the next five years will be in artificial intelligence and machine learning while the largest is expected in education, agriculture and digital commerce.
These jobs include technology specialists, sustainability specialists, business intelligence analysts and information security specialists.
But as Kirsten Salyer, head of editorial strategy and thought leadership at WEF pointed out during one of the panels, “the report found that one of the greatest barrier to business transformation is the skill gap.”
Over the past few months, the rapid advancement of generative AI technology has been seen as a threat to the labor market, particularly in the service sector.
However, in reality, the report indicates how technological advancement represents both a challenge and an opportunity and, ultimately, an overall net positive in job creation.
“AI is going to change every job, how we do it, in the service sector, but will not eliminate many jobs,” argued Richard Baldwin, professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
“It is essentially ‘wisdom in a can’ giving more power to all workers, but especially those average workers. I think it would be uplifting for the middle class but would be extremely disruptive in the sense that every job will change.”
“What I say on Twitter all the time is: AI will not take your job, it is somebody using AI that will take your job. So you better learn how to use AI,” Baldwin said.
Human capital development, including reskilling, upskilling and transforming the educational sector to ensure resilience, was one of the central topics of discussion at the WEF summit on Tuesday.
Zahidi was among those who stressed the importance of a better framework to support the transition to the jobs of the future, saying that “governments and businesses must invest in supporting the shift . . . through the education, reskilling and social support structures that can ensure individuals are at the heart of the future of work.”
UAE Minister of Education Ahmad Belhoul Al-Falasi also reiterated the importance of strengthening collaboration between the different entities to better prepare the workforce for the future labor market.
He argued that while it was difficult to predict what skills would be required by the labor market in the future, the focus should be on preparing people to be lifelong learners, highly adaptable, and aware that their jobs will drastically change.
Al-Falasi talked about how his country was moving toward “instilling that capacity of self-learning much earlier in the process.”
“You want to push that responsibility more to the students by allowing them to take choices at an early age and allowing them to self-learn at a younger age,” he said.
Al-Falasi said that the proliferation of digital technology has made it easier to provide digital learning content.
Many of the discussions also turned to the importance of ensuring jobs that dignify and protect the rights of workers.
Younes Sekkouri, Morocco’s minister of economic inclusion, small business, employment and skills, stressed the importance of considering not only skills but also the added value that jobs brought to people.
He said that talent retention would be a key challenge for policymakers and businesses to address, particularly in developing countries.
The WEF is an international non-governmental organization committed to improving the state of the world through public-private cooperation.
Each year, the WEF hosts two major events: the Annual Meeting and the Growth Summit, where global leaders from business, government and civil society convene to discuss some of the world’s most pressing issues.
The 2023 Growth Summit brings together experts from diverse sectors to discuss three core themes: Enabling resilient growth, developing human capital, and accelerating economic equity.