The World Economic Forum on the Future of Jobs

Are you prepared to meet the challenges in the global labor market that lay ahead? Is your company? The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report highlights the widespread disruptions in the labor markets that will be caused by the developments in fields such as artificial intelligence, machine-learning, genetics and nanotechnology. The report found that “technological disruption is interacting with socio-economic, geopolitical and demographic factors to create a perfect storm in labor markets in the next five years”.

The technological innovations over the coming years will lead to an automation of tasks that are highly repetitive such as administrative and manufacturing tasks. At the same time, new jobs will be created by these innovations: most notably roles such as the data analyst, which companies expect will help them make sense and derive insights from the torrent of data generated by technological disruptions, and the specialized sales representative, as industries will have to get more skilled at explaining the value of their new products to outsiders. However, the jobs gained over the next five years will not be able to outweigh the expected losses. The report estimates that a total of 5.1 million jobs will be lost within the period of 2015-2020. What is worse is that the impact is not distributed evenly as routine white collar office functions as well as manufacturing and production roles are expected to be hit hardest – with a total loss of 7.1 million jobs. In contrast, 2 million jobs will be gained in highly skilled professions, predominantly in computer and mathematical, and architecture and engineering related fields.

Importantly, the report’s claim as to the net loss of jobs due to automation and technology is a highly contested one among economists. For instance, David Dorn, Professor of International Trade and Labor Markets at the University of Zurich comes to the conclusion that the two effects – the losses and the gains of jobs due to technological progress – will more or less balance each other out. However, also he argues that the jobs that are being created are not in the same pay bracket as the ones that are lost. Hence, Dorn perceives a divide that is widening more and more.

In order to be prepared to meet these challenges, companies need to build a new approach to workforce planning and talent management, where better forecasting data and planning metrics can anticipate the skills that will be needed to persist. According to the World Economic Forum, “HR has the opportunity to add significant strategic value in predicting the skills that will be needed, and plan for changes in demand and supply”. This means that companies will need expert tools that can generate actionable insights into the development of the labor market. Such tools could help companies make job training investments based on skills deemed seminal and job seekers could get customized suggestions to follow the best opportunities for advancement.

It is not surprising that evaluating which skills will be promising in the future or not is the hardest part. The Forum’s own in-depth analysis of industries, occupations and skills of the future proves that this is not as easy as it seems.


The WEF’s list of top 10 skills for 2020 does hardly seem to reflect the scope of the proclaimed disruptions. The skill sets in 2015 and 2020 contain eight identical skills. Only the ranking has changed. For instance, creativity becomes much more important whereas negotiation loses relevance. More generally though, the skills are formulated so general that they could be assigned to almost any occupation. Indeed, the Word Economic Forum’s prediction reads more like a prophecy of the Delphi Oracle that is so pliable that it will come true in any case. Apart from listing seminal skills, the list does thus highlight the need for better analytical tools that can capture the complexity of the global labor market.

In order to efficiently analyze occupation data and to produce actionable insights that can prepare companies and governments for the disruption ahead, we need semantic tools that can provide context for skills and occupations on a global level. Tools that can make sense of different cultural understandings of a job. Tools that can make meaningful connections between different jobs and skills. Simply tools that bring the same or even a better understanding to occupations than we do.