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The future of work still requires people—so stop investing in them at your own peril


Automation may cast a dark shadow over low-skill workers, but a new report suggests there’s still hope for humans.

The robots aren’t taking over, yet: At least, that’s the finding of a report by the World Bank that looked at data on global industrial jobs. The World Development Report 2019 says advanced economies have shed industrial jobs, but the rise of the industrial sector in East Asia has more than compensated for this loss, meaning overall numbers haven’t changed. Jobs are relocating, not disappearing.

The skills trends: What that does mean is that while the jobs may not be going away, if you don’t live in the right place or have the right abilities, you could still be out of work. There were three main trends:

     1.  In both advanced and emerging economies, more advanced cognitive and emotional skills are in greater demand.
     2.  Repetitive skills that are specific to a single job are on the decline.
     3.  Increasingly, workers with a combination of different skills are in demand.

Breaking the narrative: Technology hasn’t decimated the low-skilled workforce in all countries. Specifically, in Chile, a greater use of advanced business computer software from 2007 to 2013 created a greater need to do repetitive manual tasks, and less of a need for abstract tasks.

The future: The authors says countries that don’t invest in human capital will face dire economic consequences: “In countries with the lowest human capital investments today, our analysis suggests that the workforce of the future will only be one-third to one-half as productive as it could be if people enjoyed full health and received a high-quality education.” 

Why it matters: We often talk about how robots are taking jobs away, but people will still be needed in the workforce. If the ongoing narrative ends up drawing away investment in training, benefits, or safety nets, countries and employees won’t be able to adapt to the upcoming changes.