Report: Emerging Technologies Put Jobs in Public, Private Sectors at Risk

Advancing technology and a projected skills gap are expected to take a toll on global employment numbers in the coming years.

A new study has some worrisome revelations for the future of the global job market: By 2020, more than 5 million jobs could disappear in the wake of advancing technology.

According to The Future of Jobs, a report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) earlier this month, millions of jobs around the world could largely evaporate as the larger employment market adjusts to the ever-rising tide of technology in what the group calls the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The impacts of these substantial shifts aren’t likely be limited to just the private sector either. With office and administrative roles among those in danger of shrinking opportunities, state and local governments will likely have to adjust the way they hire and manage their staff pools as well.

Which Technologies Are Driving Change?

Unsurprisingly, the technologies making the biggest waves in the job market are the same ones many public and private organizations have been striving to implement in the last several years. 

According the report, mobile Internet and cloud technology ranked as a change-driver at 34 percent, improved processing power and big data was ranked at 26 percent, and new energy supplies and technologies was ranked at 22 percent.

Industries are already feeling the effects of improved computing power, mobile Internet, cloud computing and big data, but the WEF believes further adjustment will be needed as these technologies improve and become more common in workplaces. 

Leading up to 2017, advancements in the Internet of Things, advanced manufacturing, and new energy supplies and technologies are expected to play more of a role in the shifting workforce environment. 

Between 2018 and 2020, progress in robotics and autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and biotechnology and genomics are expected to have add their effects to the situation.

Other factors, like the changing nature of work and flexible work, emerging middle class markets, climate change and natural resources, and geopolitical volatility also will play into the WEF’s projections.

Which Jobs Are Hardest Hit by These Changes?

The majority of the projected job losses fell to the lower skilled positions within the office and administrative realm at a net loss of more than 4.7 million jobs. Because of the limited skillset required for many of these “white collar” roles, the WEF said that without significant skills improvement, these workers could face job losses due to redundancy and low hiring incentives for employers.

Manufacturing and production jobs were the next hardest hit, with net losses worldwide at around 1.6 million positions. While losses are expected in this sector, the WEF reports there is also substantial opportunity for “upskilling, redeployment and productivity enhancement through technology rather than a pure substitution.”

Employment numbers in the construction and extraction; arts, design, entertainment, sports and media; legal; and installation and maintenance sectors are also expected to dip between now and 2020, though losses are not as substantial as aforementioned sectors.

A Shift in Viable Employment Skills

Along with the growth of technology comes the growth of new skills and abilities. While workforce disruption may shift employment opportunities, it will also shift the roles of workers in myriad industries and create the demand for new, unrealized skills. 

“On average," the report states, "by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today, according to our respondents.”

Though the fear of workers being completely replaced by robotic solutions or artificial intelligence is a common concern, the WEF points to a more likely scenario in which employees’ duties shift and are supplemented by technological aides.

“Even jobs that will shrink in number are simultaneously undergoing change in the skill sets required to do them," according to the report. "Across nearly all industries, the impact of technological and other changes is shortening the shelf-life of employees’ existing skill sets.” 

However the continued integration of technology plays out in the global workforce, the need for constant training and education will be essential for personnel to remain competent and competitive in the evolving workforce.

How Will These Shifts Affect Talent Recruitment?

As a result of the increased employment instability, recruitment will become more competitive, especially in the computer, mathematical, architecture and engineering sectors, according to the report.

“Most of these roles across industries, countries and job families are already perceived as hard to recruit for and — with few exceptions — the situation is expected to worsen significantly over the 2015-2020 period,” the report states

While other employment areas are projected to face a substantial dip, areas like business and financial operations, management, computer and mathematics, architecture and engineering, sales, and education and training are expected to grow — though not to the scale of projected losses.

Managing Change, Moving Forward

Though many of the respondents to the WEF study said they were aware of the challenges facing them, they have been slow to act, according to the report. Around one-third of participants reported the intention to put money toward reskilling current employees. 

“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,” the report states.

In the short term, the WEF findings point to a focus on strategic involvement of the human resources department, better use of data and planning metrics in workforce forecasting, a more talent-diverse workforce, and the use of more flexible working arrangements and “online talent platforms.”

In the long term, the report cites a need for re-evaluating the educational system to siloed learning styles and promote progress, incentivize “lifelong learning” to better equip students and workers with valuable skills in the future, and promote collaboration across industries and the public and private divide.

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at