The Workforce of the Future

The Workforce of the Future
Jun 2021 , by , in Interviews

Susan Lund, MGI leader and expert in global labor markets 

Are leaders ready to guide the shift in workplace?

Accelerating trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation mean that more people will need to change jobs and learn new skills. A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) indicates that up to 25 percent more workers than previously estimated may need to switch occupations. The COVID-19 crisis has permanently changed workplace conditions and skill-set needs and how corporate leaders can prepare for this future. 

What has been the pandemic’s impact on the global economy and labour market?

We have been studying the long-term impact of COVID-19 after economies reopen, and that includes the jobs, skills, and workforce transitions that will be required. We looked at eight countries that represent different levels of income and economic development to get a global perspective. The first thing we found is that physical proximity matters. We measured proximity metrics for 800 different occupations, from how close interactions with people are to the frequency of those interactions to whether the work is indoors or outdoors. 

We found that the disruptions will be highest in four arenas: on-site customer interaction, such as in retail; work in leisure and travel, including restaurants and hotels; indoor production and warehousing, which includes factories; and computer-based office work.  Notice that these categories cover a lot of low-wage, hourly, frontline service jobs. This will be a very different dynamic than what we saw in the past with technology and automation, where service jobs were largely not affected and, in fact, people who were displaced from offices or manufacturing sites could find work in that sector.

Are there other trends beyond the impact of the pandemic affecting the future of work?

The disruptions are coming from three broad sets of trends. First, COVID-19 accelerated a shift to remote work and virtual meetings. Even after the pandemic, most companies are planning to continue some form of work from home. Additionally, McKinsey’s Travel, Logistics & Infrastructure Practice estimates that 20 percent of business travel may be permanently replaced by virtual meetings, although the same will not be true for leisure travel and tourism. The second big group of trends relates to e-commerce and other digital transactions, from restaurant delivery to telemedicine. All these activities surged in 2020, and many new users have found electronic channels both convenient and efficient and plan to continue using them. Third, there is automation and AI, with companies using technology to adapt to the new realities and planning to implement more technologies in the future.

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