Workforce & Big Data – Part 2 : Jobs under threat VS jobs enhanced

Millions of jobs lost? Replaced by robots, software, and algorithms? Several studies have drawn these alarming projections in the last three years. From the University of Oxford to the Belgian institute “Bruegel”. Are they right?


The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report seeks to understand the current and future impact of key disruptions on employment levels, skill sets and recruitment patterns in different industries and countries. Let’s have a look to their research:

1. Drivers of change

Disruptive changes to business models will have a profound impact on the employment landscape over the coming years. Many of the major drivers of transformation currently affecting global industries are expected to have a significant impact on jobs, ranging from significant job creation to job displacement, and from heightened labor productivity to widening skills gaps. In many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist.

65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.

In such
 a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the ability
 to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements,
 job content and the aggregate effect on employment
is increasingly critical for businesses, governments and individuals in order to fully seize the opportunities presented by these trends, and to mitigate undesirable outcomes.

We are today at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. Developments in previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and genetics and biotechnology are all building on and amplifying one another. Smart systems, homes, factories, farms, grids or entire cities, will help tackle problems ranging from supply chain management to climate change. Concurrent to this technological revolution are a set of broader socio-economic, geopolitical and demographic developments, with nearly equivalent impact to the technological factors.


2. Employment trends

Across the countries covered by the Report, current trends could lead to a net employment impact of more than 5.1 million jobs lost to disruptive labor market changes over the period 2015–2020, with a total loss of 7.1 million jobs — two thirds of which are concentrated in routine white collar office functions, such as Office and Administrative roles — and a total gain of 2 million jobs, in Computer and Mathematical and Architecture and Engineering related fields. Manufacturing and Production roles are also expected to see a further bottoming out but are also anticipated to have relatively good potential for upskilling, redeployment and productivity enhancement through technology rather than pure substitution.

Drivers of change, industries overall 1


Drivers of change, industries overall 2

Timeframe to impact industries, business models

Regarding France, Franck Papazian, president of MediaSchool Group, said on “The recent Roland Berger study on the middle classes facing the digital revolution recall that France has not adapted its industrial equipment to the wave of automation in the secondary sector since the 1990s. 42% of all sectors jobs in France will potentially automatable in 20 years. Tomorrow, the difference will be between automated jobs, subject to big pressure, and jobs with little automatable skills. Although, in 2014, INSEE explained that still 10.3% of self-employed in France, freelancers and employees of the uber-economy are growing and it’s already 34% of the United States Workforce. With 2.5 million polyactive people in France, the National Digital Council recalls in its report “New paths” need to promote hybrid and polyactive careers.”


3. Jobs in danger VS New and Emerging Roles

There’s absolutely no question that we will continue generating larger and larger volumes of data, especially considering that the number of handheld devices and Internet-connected devices is expected to grow exponentially. All this data, coupled with the ability to analyze it, will change the jobs market forever. Although many types of jobs seem to be affected, we have chosen some of the most significant.


Data Analysts – dead or alive?

One job type stand out due to the frequency and consistency with which they are mentioned across practically all industries and geographies: data analysts, which companies expect will help them make sense and derive insights from the torrent of data generated by technological disruptions. Is the job that was just voted the best job in America for 2016 at risk? Bernard Marr, a Big Data expert, explains on “Microsoft and Salesforce both recently announced features to let non-coders create apps to view business data. New machine learning algorithms can now autonomously analyze data and identify patterns, even interpret the data and produce reports and data visualizations. Cognitive technologies will play an important role in the future of analytics and the education around it. As the value of data analytics becomes apparent in all fields of activity, a growing number of people will want to be able to extract insights from their data.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies can help to break down the barriers to widespread use of data analytics by making complex analytics possible to just about anyone, regardless of their technical ability. In essence, NLP is teaching computers to accept input in the natural, spoken language of humans – eliminating the communications barrier between man and machine.

IBM for example, believes that it can offer a solution to the skills shortage in big data by cutting out the data scientists entirely and replacing (or supplementing) them with its Watson natural language analytics platform. Gartner forecasts that the need for so-called ‘citizen data scientists’, people who are in job roles that are not primarily about analytics but who could benefit from using data-driven insights, is going to grow five times faster than the need for highly skilled data science specialists.

In addition, new technologies are emerging that will allow lay people in any field to create detailed infographics and other storytelling devices to help interpret the data NLP technologies will return. The data scientist — may soon be as mythical as that unicorn, and simply unneeded in the big data landscape where everyone can conduct his own analytics at will.

However, Universities and colleges have created and continue to develop master’s programs attempting to address this skills shortage, and there’s additionally been a reliance on boot camps to help fill the gaps. However, undergraduate programs tailored to big data have been somewhat lacking in the past. With the Department of Labor’s forecast of a 25% growth in data jobs by 2018, it’s no surprise that US colleges and universities are changing tactics and developing undergraduate programs that address big data skills requirements. The good news is there is growing interest in this field.


Human Resources – Reinventing the function?

Could human resources personnel eventually be replaced by smart computers that can perform the same function?  “Human resources, headhunting and hiring is already being affected by data mining as algorithms take on the job of sorting through resumes to find the perfect candidates. Other jobs of human resources, including collecting and filing paperwork, advising employees about benefits, etc., can easily be automated”, says Bernard Marr.

The WEF advise in its report: “As business leaders begin to consider proactive adaptation to the new talent landscape, they need to manage skills disruption as an urgent concern. What this requires is an HR function that is rapidly becoming more strategic and has a seat at the table—one that employs new kinds of analytical tools to spot talent trends and skills gaps, and 
provides insights that can help organizations align their business, innovation and talent management strategies to maximize available opportunities to capitalize on transformational trends.

Mouhidine Seiv, founder of Riminder comes with a nuance: “Artificial intelligence is there to help recruiters. Facing acceleration challenges, recruiters need some ‘super-powers’.” Based on much more relevant correlations than simple keyword searches, data analysis allows, for example: to follow the labor market fast changing, predict the next position of a candidate, automatically evaluate his candidacy from his resume, analyzing his career, his experiences, his cross skills, etc.

Far from “duplicate” candidates, technology offers new recruitment prospects by promoting relevancy, flexibility, diversity, speed of processes and providing tangible evidence. He said that technology does not intend to replace human intelligence or recruiter’s expertise. The data never speaks for itself. Technology has the auxiliary role of an expansion that will increase recruiter’s capacity. It will expand his vision by confronting it with that of the market, will give him access to unexpected indicators and enhance the strategic dimension of the HR function.


Rethinking education systems: Teachers & Students

“The job of teachers will definitely change with the digitization”, says Bernard Marr. “Studies have already shown that algorithms used to customize leaning to individual pupils based on their progress and understanding can be more effective than a human teacher.  While this may be a boon to school districts desperate to find qualified individuals to teach, it may also eventually reduce the role of classroom teacher to that of proctor or babysitter — or eliminate it altogether.”

The WEF’s report explains that most existing education systems at all levels provide highly skilled training and continue a number of 20th century practices that are hindering progress on today’s talent and labor market issues. Two such legacy issues burdening formal education systems worldwide are
the dichotomy between Humanities and Sciences and applied and pure training, on the one hand, and the prestige premium attached to tertiary-certified forms of education—rather than the actual content of learning— on the other hand. Businesses should work closely with governments, education providers and others to imagine what a true 21st century curriculum might look like.

4. Future Workforce Strategy

The impact of technological, demographic and socio-economic disruptions on business models will be felt
 in transformations to the employment landscape and
 skills requirements, resulting in substantial challenges for recruiting, training and managing talent. Not anticipating and addressing such issues in a timely manner over the coming years may come at an enormous economic and social cost for businesses, individuals and economies and societies as a whole.

The Report finds that business leaders are aware
 of these looming challenges but have been slow to act decisively. Just over two thirds of their respondents believe that future workforce planning and change management features as a reasonably high or very high priority on
 the agenda of their company’s or organization’s senior leadership.

However, many of the respondents are also acutely aware of the limitations to their current planning for disruptive change and its implications for the talent landscape. Currently, only 53% of CHROs surveyed are reasonably or highly confident regarding the adequacy of their organization’s future workforce strategy to prepare for these shifts. The main perceived barriers to a more decisive approach include a lack of understanding of the disruptive changes ahead, resource constraints and short-term profitability pressures and lack of alignment between workforce strategies and firms’ innovation strategies.


Across all industries, about two thirds of our respondents report intentions to invest in the reskilling of current employees as part of their change management and future workforce planning efforts, making it by far the highest-ranked such strategy overall. However, companies that report both that they are confident in the adequacy of their workforce strategy and that these issues are perceived as a priority by their top management are nearly 50% more likely to plan to invest in reskilling, than companies who do not. This group of companies is also more than twice as likely to be targeting female talent and minority talent and over 50% more likely to be supporting employees’ mobility and job rotation within the firm. They are significantly less likely to plan to hire more short-term workers or to use expatriate talent.

A number of promising approaches appear underutilized across almost all industries. For example, a focus on making better use of the accumulated experience of older employees and building an ageless workforce barely register among proposed workforce strategies. There also seems to be varying openness to collaboration, whether within or across industries, with the latter seemingly much more acceptable. Finally, a key approach, partnerships with public institutions and the education sector, is only reported by 20% of respondents.

Recommendations for action

Recent discussions about the employment impact of disruptive change have often been polarized between those who foresee limitless opportunities in newly emerging job categories and prospects that improve workers’ productivity and liberate them from routine work, and those that foresee massive labor substitution and displacement of jobs.
 Both are possible. It is our actions today that will determine whether we head towards massive displacement of workers or the emergence of new opportunities.

Without targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build
 a workforce with future proof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base.

For a talent revolution to take place, governments and businesses will need to profoundly change their approach to education, skills and employment, and their approach to working with each other. Businesses will need to put talent development and future workforce strategy front and centered to their growth. Firms can no longer be passive consumers of ready-made human capital. They require a new mindset to meet their talent needs and to optimize social outcomes. Governments will need to re-consider fundamentally the education models of today. As the issue becomes more urgent, governments will need to show bolder leadership in putting through the curricula and labor market regulation changes that are already decades overdue in some economies.

Future workforce strategies, industries overall

While it is clear from W.E.F’s data that momentous change is underway across the board, these forecasts vary in nature in different industries and regions. Efforts aimed at closing skills gaps will increasingly need to be grounded in a solid understanding of a country’s or industry’s skills base today and of changing future skills requirements due to disruptive change.

For example, efforts to place unemployed youth in apprenticeships in certain job categories through targeted skills training may be self-defeating if skills requirements
 in that job category are likely to be drastically different in just a few years’ time. Indeed, in some cases such efforts may be more successful if they base their models on future expectations.

Areas with short and long term implications

– Making Use of Data Analytics: Businesses and governments will need to build a new approach to workforce planning and talent management, where better forecasting data and planning metrics will need to be central.

– Talent diversity: Study after study demonstrates the business benefits of workforce diversity and companies expect finding talent for many key specialist roles to become much more difficult 
by 2020. In this area, too, technology and data analytics may become a useful tool for advancing workforce parity.

– Leveraging flexible working arrangements
and online talent platforms: Businesses will increasingly connect and collaborate remotely with freelancers and independent professionals through digital talent platforms. Modern forms of association such as digital freelancers’
unions and updated labor market regulations will increasingly begin to emerge to complement these new organizational models.

– Cross-industry and public-private collaboration: Businesses will need to realize that collaboration on talent issues, rather than competition, is no longer a nice-to-have but rather a necessary strategy. Multi-sector partnerships and collaboration, when they leverage the expertise of each partner in a complementary manner, are indispensable components of implementing scalable solutions to jobs and skills challenges.

5. Millions of jobs lost? OECD doesn’t agree

OECD economists have reviewed different studies assumptions, particularly those of Oxford researchers who came to the conclusion that 47% of jobs were “at risk” in the US over the next decade or two.



The way they approach “automated” jobs is too general, said Stefano Scarpetta, OECD’s Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs. They assume that all jobs are the same in a profession and in every country. It is better to analyze tasks content for each job and not on average for each profession.

OECD study reporters have mapped out concrete tasks from data from the detailed international survey on adult skills (PIAAC) of the organization. Their conclusion: “It is unlikely that automation and digitization destroy a large number of jobs.” Stefano Scarpetta summarized in figures: ” It would be rather an average of 9% of jobs in the United States and OECD countries that could be automated, with over 70% of tasks substitutable by machines. This is much less than 47%”. In terms of volume, there is not necessarily a risk of technological unemployment. Rather talk about profound change in the nature of the tasks. If we look at “medium substitution risk” jobs, it climbs to 35% of average jobs concerned, and 30 % in France.



But OECD temper: “According to some estimates, every job created by the high-tech sector will create about five additional jobs.” While recognizing that there will be job cuts and “less educated workers are those who are most at risk of having their jobs eliminated. To adapt to this possible reduction of labor demand, we have to consider other possibilities, such as lower working hours.


To conclude

The problem, however, lies in the fact that these technological revolutions might not create as many jobs as they eliminate. Certainly we will need more programmers, statisticians, engineers, data analysts and IT personnel to create and manage these sophisticated computers but it might be difficult to tell a factory line worker or taxi driver to shift gears and become a data analyst. How we fill the gaps when jobs are replaced will be the deciding factor as to whether all this automation is good for humanity or not.

Between 2015 and 2020, there will be the creation of 2 million jobs in 15 leading countries that account for approximately 65 percent of the world’s total workforce. Unfortunately, this is offset by the loss of 7.1 million jobs due to the rise of AI and robots over the same time period, according to a Davos report.

While it is easy to predict which jobs will fall to automation in the next couple of decades, it is more difficult to know what new jobs will be created from that technology. What will be required for people losing their jobs are accessible training programs to allow them to transition into these new sectors.

Mynul Khan on try to be optimistic :

There will always be a need for on-site, human labor and expertise when we deal with machines. Robots will have glitches, need updates and require new parts. As we rely more and more on mechanized systems and automation, we will require more people with technical skills to maintain, replace, update and fix these systems and hardware. Technology has not only created departments and jobs within companies, but also created the need for entirely new companies and businesses. The demand for technical skills will only increase with an increase in automation: Someone needs to fix the robot when a part is faulty. Driverless cars will still require mechanics. New jobs will be created in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields like nanotechnology and robotics. A 2011 study found that one million industrial robots directly created nearly three million jobs. Of the six countries examined in the study, five saw their unemployment rates go down as the number of robots used went up.

Yes, let’s be optimistic…