Impact of Disruptive Change on Employment

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 labour substitution and displacement of jobs. Academics, chief executives and labour leaders hold strong and diverse views on the  debate, as do policymakers.6 It is clear from our data that while forecasts vary by industry and region, momentous change is underway and that, ultimately, it is our actions today that will determine whether that change mainly results in massive displacement of workers or the emergence of new opportunities. Without urgent and targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with futureproof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base. Our dataset aims to bring specificity to the debate and to the options for action, by providing the perspective of Chief Human Resources Officers of leading employers who are among those at the frontline of the emerging trends and are key actors in implementing future workforce strategies.

Impact of Disruptive Change on Employment

Overall, our respondents seem to take a negative view regarding the upcoming employment impact of artificial intelligence, although not on a scale that would lead to widespread societal upheaval—at least up until the year 2020. By contrast, further unpacking the bundle of technological drivers of change in the mould of the Fourth Industrial Revolution yields a rather more optimistic picture regarding the job creation potential of technologies such as Big Data analytics, mobile internet, the Internet of Things and robotics. However, by far the biggest expected drivers of employment creation are demographic and socio-economic in nature; in particular, the opportunities offered by young demographics and rising middle classes in emerging markets and the rising economic power and aspirations of women. Conversely, our respondents share a stark premonition that increasing geopolitical volatility risks being the biggest threat—by far—to employment and job creation at the global level.


Note 7. Estimated employment effects have been converted into compound growth rates for the 2015–2020 period, i.e. the mean growth rate over the specified period of time if employment had grown or declined at a steady rate, which is unlikely to be the pattern observed in reality. A compound growth rate can be thought of as a way to smooth out a rate of change so that it may be more easily understood (for details, see Appendix A: Report Methodology).

However, this aggregate-level view of the driving forces behind employment change masks significant variation and important nuances at the level of individual job families and occupations. Our respondents expect strong employment growth across the Architecture and Engineering and Computer and Mathematical job families, a moderate decline in Manufacturing and Production roles and a significant decline in Office and Administrative roles. Other sizeable job families, such as Business and Financial Operations, Sales and Related and Construction and Extraction have a largely flat global employment outlook over the 2015–2020 period. Further unpacking these expectations according to the factors driving employment change makes clear the true scale of impending industry and occupational transformation. See Table 4 for details on these expectations.

The expected global decline in total Manufacturing and Production roles is driven by labour-substituting technologies such as additive manufacturing and 3D printing as much as by more resource-efficient sustainable product use, lower demand growth in ageing societies and threats to global supply chains due to geopolitical volatility. Some cautious optimism is warranted due to increased manufacturing demand for advanced materials and comparatively favourable expectations around robotics, pointing to the latter’s potential for labour-complementing productivity enhancement rather than pure job replacement.

Conversely, 3D printing, resource-efficient sustainable production and robotics are all seen as strong drivers of employment growth in the Architecture and Engineering job family, in light of a continued and fast-growing need for skilled technicians and specialists to create and manage advanced and automated production systems. This is expected to lead to a transformation of manufacturing into a highly sophisticated sector where high-skilled engineers are in strong demand to make the industrial Internet of Things a reality.

The fortunes of other job families due to these same factors are mixed. Installation and Maintenance jobs, for example, will see great productivity enhancements and strong growth in green jobs such as the installation, retrofitting, repair and maintenance of smart meters and renewable energy technologies in residential and office buildings, but—at an aggregate level—will also come face-to-face with the efficiency-saving and labour-substituting aspect of the Internet of Things. Similarly, despite some challenges, global demographics will sustain demand for Construction and Extraction jobs. Resource-efficiency is expected to be another key driving factor for this job family, at least in the case of construction, in the creation of new and improvement of existing housing stock, often using new construction techniques, materials and approaches.



Automation of checkout processes and smart inventory management through sensors and other applications of the Internet of Things are some of the factors expected to lead to a decrease in demand for traditional roles in the Sales and Related job family. Consumer ethics and green consumption practices are likewise anticipated to impact negatively on traditional roles in the job family, though perhaps with an upside for employees with skills in accrediting and advising on eco-labelled products. The strongest employment growth in the sector is expected to come from a continued shift towards online shopping and the application of Big Data analytics to derive and act upon insights from customer data and preferences to provide a personalised shopping experience.

Two further job families with mainly flat aggregate employment outlooks over the coming years are Business and Financial Operations and Management. Each is affected by a very wide range of factors, hinting at the scale of transformation and upskilling needs these job families will undergo over the coming years.

Strong employment growth in the Computer and Mathematical job family is driven by trends beyond technology, such as rapid urbanization in developing countries, as well as by disruptions that negatively affect the employment outlook in other job families, such as geopolitical volatility and privacy issues—as companies from virtually all industries seek to recruit specialists that can help them apply tools such as Big Data analytics and data visualization to better understand and cope with these issues.

The biggest employment decline of any job family is expected in Office and Administrative roles, which are expected to be negatively affected by a perfect storm of technological trends that have the potential to make many of them redundant, such as mobile internet and cloud technology, Big Data analytics and the Internet of Things, but also factors such as climate change and resource efficiency and workplace flexibility that undermine the rationale for maintaining a large workforce within these roles.

Interestingly, our respondents expect a comparatively small employment impact from two disruptions that currently receive significant attention. Where it is mentioned, the artificial intelligence and machine learning driver is expected to lead to negative employment outcomes in job families such as Education and Training, Legal and Business and Financial Operations. However, it appears our respondents do not believe that these technologies will have advanced significantly enough by the year 2020 to have a more widespread impact on global employment levels. Similarly, the sharing economy may have the potential to radically transform the way work is organized and regulated in certain job families, with all the opportunities and challenges this entails; but where it is mentioned as a driver of change to employment, its effect is largely seen as benign in the next five years. Our analysis reveals that upcoming disruptions to the employment landscape are going to be a lot more complex and multi-faceted than conveyed by a narrow focus only on automation, and that we must act within the current window offered by the varying speeds of technological transformations to prepare.


Global Net Employment Effects

The survey results provide direct information on the expected relative employment changes to job families over the period 2015–2020. It is possible to extrapolate from these values the estimated numbers of jobs created or lost in absolute terms worldwide. Between them, the 15 economies covered by our data account for about 1.86 billion workers, approximately 65% of the world’s total workforce. Using the standardized occupational classification behind our research framework, we have estimated the total number of people employed in any given job family in each of our focus countries (although for China, which accounts for 770 million workers out of our total, this data is unfortunately not available in a directly comparable format.)8Therefore, we can give an estimate of the net effect on global employment of the trends and disruptions anticipated by the respondents covered by our Report.

According to these calculations, current trends could lead to a net employment impact of more than 5.1 million jobs lost to disruptive labour market changes over the period 2015–2020, with a total loss of 7.1 million jobs—two thirds of which are concentrated in the Office and Administrative job family—and a total gain of 2 million jobs, in several smaller job families. A number of conclusions stand out:

  • The global workforce is expected by our respondents to experience significant churn between job families and functions, with administrative and routine white‑collar office functions at risk of being decimated and strong growth in Computer and Mathematical and Architecture and Engineering related fields. Manufacturing and Production roles are also expected to see a further bottoming out but might have the worst behind them and still retain relatively good potential for upskilling, redeployment and productivity enhancement through technology rather than pure substitution.
  • Employment growth is expected to derive disproportionately from smaller, generally high-skilled job families that will be unable to absorb job losses coming from other parts of the labour market. Even if they could, significant reskilling would be needed. This factor plus the increase in global unemployment due to global population growth and slow job creation over the period 2015-2019 leaves no room for complacency.
  • Once emerging markets and developing countries are added into the equation, any discussion of the Future of Jobs remains incomplete without recognizing that a significant share of the global workforce remains employed in agriculture, about which both current technology optimists and alarmists have comparatively little to say. Similarly, a potential field of employment growth around which our survey yielded only limited data points concerns the Personal Care and Service job family, since jobs in this field are not typically found on a large scale among large multinational employers.10Indeed, there is cause for optimism about growth in these roles as demand for such services grows due to demographic and social factors.
  • There is a strong gender dimension to expected employment changes whereby, notably, gender gaps appear to be more pronounced within both high growth and declining job families. For example, women make up low numbers in the fast-growing STEM job families, pointing, on current trends, to a deteriorating gender gap over time; but also low numbers within job families such as Manufacturing and Production or Construction and Extraction, where expected job losses will disproportionately affect men. However, female employment is also concentrated in low-growth or declining job families such as Sales, Business and Financial Operations and Office and Administrative, indicating, if our respondents’ expectations come to pass, a possible reversal of some of the gains made in workplace gender parity over the past decade.

Employment Trends by Industry

From an industry-level perspective, there is a modestly positive outlook for employment across most sectors over the 2015–2020 period. However, underneath this aggregate outlook there is once again significant relative growth in some job families and significant relative decline in others, resulting from the accelerating pace of transformation within many industries. For further details, please also refer to the Industry Profiles in Part 2 of the Report.

The Computer and Mathematical job family is anticipated by our respondents to experience very high growth centred on data analysts and software and applications developers—not just within the Information and Communication Technology industry but across a wide range of industries, including Financial Services & Investors, Media, Entertainment and Information, Mobility and Professional Services, as computing power and Big Data analytics constitutes a significant driver of employment growth in each.

In fact, employment growth for Computer and Mathematical roles is expected to be least pronounced in the Information and Communication Technology sector itself, hinting at the accelerated demand for data analysis skills and ICT literacy across, and uptake of these tools by, other industries. For example, the Media, Entertainment and Information industry is expecting a flat employment outlook with regard to its core Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports and Media job family, combined with high growth in the Computer and Mathematical field, as the industry fully embraces its digital transformation.

In this same vein, solid job growth is expected for Architecture and Engineering roles, particularly in the Consumer, Information and Communication Technology and Mobility industries. By contrast, demand for additional engineering talent in its traditional core Basic and Infrastructure and Energy industries is fairly flat. Both of the latter are also expecting declining demand for Manufacturing and Production and Construction and Extraction roles such as Chemical Processing Plant Operators and Mining and Petroleum Extraction Workers, as both industries are facing headwinds over the coming years.

The Consumer industry is likewise reducing its Manufacturing and Production roles but anticipates at least stable overall demand for Sales and Related jobs, as rising middle classes in emerging markets, changing consumer values and, in particular, the rising economic power of women, are significant drivers of job growth in the sector.

The Mobility industry is anticipating significant growth in Transportation and Logistics roles, as it plays its traditional role of connecting countries and industries in the wake of increasing globalization as well as, increasingly, catering to travellers from rising middle classes in emerging markets. However, geopolitical volatility and its associated threat to global travel and supply chains are perceived as major negative drivers of employment outlook in the industry. On the automotive manufacturing side of the sector, disruptions such as advanced robotics, autonomous transport, 3D printing and new energy technologies will have some of the most direct impacts on jobs of any industry.

Similarly, the Financial Services & Investors sector will undergo a significant shift, with major job growth for Computer and Mathematical roles such as data analysts, information security analysts and database and network professionals. A rising middle class and young demographics in emerging markets are significant sources of future job growth in the sector.

Many industry observers expect a substantial increase in the number of jobs in the Healthcare sector due to demographic trends such a longevity and ageing populations in advanced economies. However, our survey respondents expect a stable employment outlook for the industry over the coming five years—and a net negative impact on the number of jobs from disruptions such as mobile internet and cloud technology, enabling widespread application of telemedicine. What seems certain is that the skills profile of many jobs in the sector will change significantly.

Our respondents anticipate that the Professional Services industry will experience employment growth over the 2015–2020 period, particularly in data analytics roles, especially as the consulting arm of the sector experiences growth by advising all others on their respective transformations. Accordingly, factors affecting jobs in the industry are influenced by those affecting all the others. With regards to business models in the Professional Services industry itself, some of the major influences will be automation or globalized crowdsourcing via online platforms of high-skilled but repetitive work processes, leading to increased off-shoring of back office roles and a rise in time-limited, project-based contracts.


New and Emerging Roles

Our research also explicitly asked respondents about new and emerging job categories and functions that they expect to become critically important to their industry by the year 2020, and where within their global operations they would expect to locate such roles.

Two job types stand out due to the frequency and consistency with which they were mentioned across practically all industries and geographies. The first are data analysts, as already frequently mentioned above, which companies expect will help them make sense and derive insights from the torrent of data generated by the technological disruptions referenced above. The second are specialized sales representatives, as practically every industry will need to become skilled in commercializing and explaining their offerings to business or government clients and consumers, whether due to the innovative technical nature of the products themselves, due to their being targeted at new client types with which the company is not yet familiar, or both.

Other new specialties frequently mentioned include new types of human resources and organizational development specialists, engineering specialties such as materials, bio-chemicals, nanotech and robotics, regulatory and government relations specialists, geospatial information systems experts and commercial and industrial designers.

A particular need is also seen in industries as varied as Energy and Media, Entertainment and Information for a new type of senior manager who will successfully steer companies through the upcoming change and disruption.

Once more, there is a gender gap dimension to these findings, as the growth of new and emerging roles in computer, technology and engineering-related fields is outpacing the rate at which women are currently entering those types of jobs—putting them at risk of missing out on tomorrow’s best job opportunities and aggravating hiring processes for companies due to a more restricted talent pool.

We also asked respondents to identify roles where there may be consistent decline. Across a wide range of sectors including Basic and Infrastructure, Energy, Financial Services & Investors, Information and Communication Technology as well as Professional Services, Office and Administrative functions are poised for major redundancies. One particular set of jobs affected by this, for example, are customer service roles, which will become obsolete due to mobile internet technology to monitor service quality online as a means of maintaining effective customer relationship management.

Changes in Job Quality and Ease of Recruitment

In addition to the quantity of jobs, disruptive changes to industries and business models will also affect the quality, skills requirements and day-to-day content of virtually every job. Overall, our respondents expect a relative increase in compensation for in-demand jobs in every industry surveyed, in line with increased productivity and skills requirements. They also expect an overall increase in work-life balance in all industries except the Consumer sector, where the outlook for this dimension remains stable. Expectations are less clear with regard to overall job security, which is expected to increase in the Energy, Financial Services, Healthcare and Information and Communication Technology sectors, but to decrease in the Basic and Infrastructure, Consumer, Media, Entertainment and Information, Mobility and Professional Services industries. It is important to note that these are aggregate results for entire industries. For example, Energy includes renewables and utilities in addition to oil and gas. See Part 2 for further details in the Industry Profiles.

An additional dimension to consider is the general trend towards flexible work, identified by our respondents as one of the biggest drivers of transformation of business models in many industries and therefore also one of the topmost concerns at the national level in many of the Report’s focus countries. Telecommuting, co-working spaces, virtual teams, freelancing and online talent platforms are all on the rise, transcending the physical boundaries of the office or factory floor and redefining the boundary between one’s job and private life in the process. Modern forms of workers’ organization, such as digital freelancers’ unions, and updated labour market regulations are beginning to emerge to complement these new organizational models. The challenge for employers, individuals and governments  alike is going to be to work out ways and means to ensure that the changing nature of work benefits everyone.

Given the overall disruption industries are experiencing, it is not surprising that, with current trends, competition for talent in in-demand job families such as Computer and Mathematical and Architecture and Engineering and other strategic and specialist roles will be fierce, and finding efficient ways of securing a solid talent pipeline a priority for virtually every industry.

Most strategic and specialist roles across industries, countries and job families are already perceived as hard to recruit for currently and—with few exceptions—the situation is expected to worsen significantly over the 2015-2020 period, notably in the Consumer, Information and Communication Technology, Basic and Infrastructure and Media, Entertainment and Information industries (Figure 7).



Across key job families, recruitment is currently perceived as most difficult for traditional middle-skilled and skilled trade occupations, such as in Installation and Maintenance, as well as for Architecture and Engineering and Computer and Mathematical roles. By 2020 our respondents expect that it will be significantly more difficult to recruit specialists across most job families, particularly so for Computer and Mathematical roles, given the war for talent that is already shaping up in this field today. Interestingly, Office and Administrative roles will be among the hardest jobs to recruit for in absolute terms by 2020, presumably partly due to the perceived unattractiveness of the field, if current employment projections come to pass, and the very different core skills requirements this field may have going forward. By contrast, recruitment for standard white collar Business and Financial Operations roles is currently perceived as comparatively easy, and the talent pipeline is expected to marginally improve even further in the future.

There are significant variations in perceived ease of recruitment by geography, although finding specialists is expected to become more difficult across all selected economies over the 2015–2020 period. The situation will be particularly difficult in Japan, exacerbated by the country’s ageing demographics.

Our respondents also note that whereas it is often harder to recruit women than men for many specialist roles, particularly for jobs concentrated in the Computer and Mathematical and Architecture and Engineering job families, this trend is expected to improve somewhat over the 2015–2020 period. The largest progress in overcoming this gender penalty for specialist recruitment is expected in the Basic and Infrastructure, Mobility and Media, Entertainment and Information industries, though it is expected to persist, for example, in the Information and Communication Technology sector. For more details on this gender gap dimension and its implications please refer to Chapter 2.


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