Whoever the next president is starting in 2017 will have to deal with the rise of office automation as millions of office jobs (and in particular pink-collar jobs) are replaced by technology over the next four years.
Are the robots coming to take our jobs? Advances in any tech that aids in automation always come with questions about the jobs they take versus the jobs they create, but the World Economic Forum warned in a report published on Monday that advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and other modern technologies are currently likely to lead to a net loss of 5.1 million jobs worldwide by the year 2020.
"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," the report states in its introduction.
The workforce number estimate, which is based on surveys and data provided by 371 companies' chief HR officers worldwide (whose combined workforces include over 13 million employees in 15 "major, developed, and emerging economies"), includes numbers for different industries' gains and losses. The biggest loser, according to the WEF, will be in the office and administrative job sector to the tune of 4.76 million jobs—due to "a perfect storm of technological trends that have the potential to make many of [the job roles] redundant," the report states. Other fields with major expected losses include manufacturing and production (1.61 million) and construction and extraction (497,000).
It's not all bad news, all this new technology will mean new jobs, particularly in STEM fields.
Meanwhile, the report's authors believe that employment demand in the engineering and architecture sectors will see a big boost, as specialists will be needed "to create and manage advanced and automated production systems." Job numbers in the "computer and mathematical sector" will actually benefit from seemingly negative trends like geopolitical volatility and privacy concerns—meaning that bigger, out-of-touch companies will hire more data-crunching specialists so that they can adapt to modern disruptions.
On the technological side, the WEF's survey points to increased reliance on the cloud as the biggest driver of hiring change, as opposed to robotics—though respondents also believed that robots' impact on hiring trends won't really begin until 2018. On the demographic side, the survey's respondents cite flexible work environments as the most impactful trend, thanks to more advanced mobile technology access across the globe. This trend in particular is a major reason the report expects such a dive in office and administrative hiring.
And that's the key. Mobile technology and the 24/7 workplace, combined with more and more companies going to telecommuting and flex-time, mean companies will expect an on-call workforce available anywhere, at any time, from any place. Note too that the real caveat is "jobs lost by the 15 largest economies" and while that does include India and China, one has to wonder if that means telecommuting jobs will be offshored from those areas to countries not on that list, places like Central and South America, Central Asia, Eastern and Southern Europe, and the big one, Russia.
The other point is that these are going to be pink collar jobs, traditionally held by women. Drilling into the report, the places that the US is expected to lose jobs are in the Healthcare and Energy sectors with slight growth in the office sector, but it's China and Europe that will see these office jobs go the most, with big growth in India.
We'll see how this all shakes out in the end, but that's a healthy chunk of jobs worldwide that will go away and won't come back.