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Future world of work

Working lives are changing as a result of demographic and global economic shifts, technological advancements and an increased ease of migration for certain levels of skill and education. Automation will require business and industry to rethink everything from manufacture and logistics to decision-making at the highest level.

The professional world now has a higher level of gender and cultural diversity and people are staying longer in professional roles. Millennials are putting a greater emphasis on finding meaning and social purpose through work, and turning to entrepreneurship to increase the chance of matching their professions with their values.

Advanced economies are seeing an ongoing shift toward service sector jobs, and companies and other organisations are becoming more networked and flexible. At the same time, a flexible and decentralised ‘knowledge-based’ workforce is coming to the fore, enabled by technologies that allow working from remote locations and collaboration across different countries and time zones. These changes will affect how we work, where, and to what ends.

Increased productivity and greater mobility are potential benefits, but there will be new challenges. Multinationals will need to develop better cultural understandings of new operating contexts, and invest in education for new skills, such as big data analysis. Will training schemes and educational institutions keep up with shifts in required skills?

How can businesses, governments and other organisations plan to deliver meaningful jobs amid significant technological and societal shifts?

Last Updated: 2 October 2015
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Current trajectory

Changing Demographics – The People

  • There is growing evidence that a more diverse workforce drives higher levels of performance; companies have outshined their less diverse peers in stock performance, for example. Companies are responding by seeking greater board diversity - Procter & Gamble's board comprises 58% diversity (which here refers to representation from different age, ethnicity and socially marginalised groups) and 41% women. 1
  • By 2025, millennials will account for 75% of the global workforce. Business, particularly in developed markets, will need to make significant changes to attract and retain the skills of this demographic. For example, large global businesses have less appeal for millennials in developed markets (35%) than millennials in emerging ones (51%). According to a report by Deloitte, “millennials are suggesting they want more from business than might have been the case 50, 20, or even 10 years ago. They are asking some searching and profound questions: Are businesses only interested in their own agendas? Do they behave ethically? Is their impact in line with expectations of what they could and should achieve? 2
  • Migration is changing the workplace. In Boston Consulting Group’s 2014 survey of over 200,000 job seekers from 189 countries, 63.8% were willing to work abroad. In most countries, this percentage tended to be much higher amongst participants aged 21 to 30. However, this sentiment varied greatly with respect to different countries. In countries such as France, Pakistan, Jamaica and the Netherlands, over 90% were most willing to work abroad while less than 50% of participants from countries like Ireland, Latvia, UK, the US and Russia were willing to do so. It is also notable that some occupations such as engineering and technical jobs are more mobile than others such as in the medical and social work field. 3

Changing nature of jobs – Terms of employment

  • Employment contracts are becoming less secure. Only 25% of workers worldwide are estimated to have stable permanent employment – the remaining ¾ are employed on temporary or short-term contracts, in informal jobs often without any contract, under own-account arrangements or in unpaid family jobs. 1 For example, French business lobbies urged the government in early 2015 to implement policies that eliminate permanent labour contracts for private sector workers so as to allow greater flexibility for companies to cut staff and wages. 2
  • Nearly half of almost 2,000 technology builders and analysts recently surveyed by the Pew Centre said technology will have displaced more jobs - both blue- and white-collar workers - than it creates by 2025. 3
  • Automation is already affecting low-wage jobs. Manufacturing companies in China such as Foxconn have plans to replace 1.2 million workers with robots to stay competitive. Similarly, rising labour wages in countries like Vietnam and Indonesia are hurting profits of companies such as Nike, who are already looking at alternatives to substitute labour with capital. 4
  • The world is expected to need around half a billion jobs by 2030, as more and more young people join the labour market. 5 The ILO estimates that 201.8 million people were jobless in 2013 – a new high, exceeding 2009’s record of 198 million. If current trends continue global unemployment will worsen, albeit gradually, reaching more than 215 million jobseekers by 2018. 6

The Workplace – Where and how we work

  • Remote working has become a mainstream proposition in the past ten years as broadband internet has become common. A 2015 survey by PGi found that 79% of knowledge workers worldwide work remotely at least once a week, usually combining in-office and out-of-office workdays in the course of a week. 1
  • There is growing recognition of the impact of physical environments on productivity. For example, nearly half of all office workers globally have no natural light in their working environments. Lack of natural light is linked to employee stress; conversely a recent study found that employees who work in environments with natural elements (such as light and plants) report a 15% higher level of well-being, are 6% more productive and 15% more creative overall. 2
  • There is also increasing reflection on the health impacts of how and how long we work. Compared with a 35-40 hour working week, those spending up to 48 hours in the office had a 10% increased risk of a stroke, while a 54-hour week saw a 27% increase. Working for more than 55 hours raised the stroke risk by 33%. 3


  • In future, job growth may be increasingly decoupled from economic growth due to more automation within various industries. Although this will benefit the bottom line of many businesses, it could create stark challenges for job creation, with further knock-on effects for the wider economy. Advances in technology and automation could also place a much wider range of jobs under threat of displacement than is the case today. However, the same trends may also create new occupations. For instance, could consumers respond to increased automation with rising demand for tailored services and handicrafts?
  • Similar to all global challenges in which our existing systems, structures and formal institutions no longer suffice, the world needs a new level of global cooperation on education, skills and jobs. Governments, business leaders, educational institutions and individuals must each understand the magnitude of the change underway and fundamentally rethink the global talent value chain. 1
  • The degree of workplace and related socio-political change will depend on culture change: fundamental shifts in the way we think, talk and confer prestige. According to political scientist and the CEO of the New America Foundation, “If we really valued care, we would not regard time out for caregiving — for your children, parents, spouse, sibling or any other member of your extended or constructed family — as a black hole on a résumé. We would see it as engaging in a socially, personally and professionally valuable activity. We would see men who lean out for care as role models just as much as women who lean in for work. We would think managing kids matters as much as managing money.” 2

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