WEF report: COVID-19 recession will speed up the robot revolution

YEKATERINBURG, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 20, 2020: A robot at the 7th 100+TechnoBuild International Congress and Trade Fair for Design, Construction, Financing and Operation of High-Rise Buildings and Unique Structures, held at the Yekaterinburg Expo international exhibition center. Donat Sorokin/TASS (Photo by Donat Sorokin\TASS via Getty Images)
A robot at the TechnoBuild International Congress and Trade Fair in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on 20 October. Photo: Donat Sorokin\TASS via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic is causing the workforce to automate faster than expected, according to the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs 2020 Report.’ The robot revolution will disrupt 85 million jobs by 2025, it said.

The WEF report found that the shift to automation will create 97 million new jobs, with the emphasis on skills in analytical thinking and creativity. The top emerging professions will be in data and artificial intelligence, content creation and cloud computing.

“COVID-19 has accelerated the arrival of the future of work,” WEF managing director Saadia Zahidi said in a statement. “Accelerating automation and the fallout from the COVID-19 recession has deepened existing inequalities across labour markets and reversed gains in employment made since the global financial crisis in 2007-2008.”


Zahidi noted that there is a rapidly closing window for managers to get ahead of this change, and help their workforce retrain for new types of roles. “Businesses, governments, and workers must plan to urgently work together to implement a new vision for the global workforce,” she said.

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The survey found that more than 80% of executives are speeding up their plans to digitise work processes and deploy new technologies.

However, more than 40% of businesses said that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration, and plan to increase their use of contractors for specialised work.

By 2025, the report found that company bosses expect the workload to be split equally between humans and machines, with the machines taking over the repetitive administrative roles and manual tasks that are currently carried out by blue collar workers.

While coronavirus has sped up the shift to remote working, 44% of employers surveyed by the report said they could envisage putting even more staff onto remote working. However, nearly 80% of them expect productivity to drop somewhat because of it.

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Even before the pandemic disrupted jobs, people were already pivoting to new “future facing” careers. The report cites LinkedIn data from the past five years showing that 50% of career shifts into data and artificial intelligence were people from different fields, and 75% of people moving into sales, content creation and production jobs were from outside those fields.

"As we think about ways to upskill or transition large populations of the workforce who are out of work as a result of COVID-19 into new, more future-proofed jobs, these new insights into career transitions and the skills required to make them have huge potential for leaders in the public and the private sector alike,” said Karin Kimbrough, chief economist at LinkedIn for the WEF report.

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