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The global workforce faces huge levels of stress and change, according to a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos

Parisa Hashempour   

The global workforce faces huge levels of stress and change, according to a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos
  • Automation, social issues, and the growth of green industries due to net-zero climate goals are all putting a strain on the world's workforce.
  • World Economic Forum panelists discussed how improved education programs and management structures could contribute to an improved future for workers.

Tomorrow's workforce will face new levels of change and stress, thanks to factors such as "the green revolution" and the aging population, according to a panel of government ministers and experts that spoke today at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Upskilling workers, improving social services, and even reshaping the nature of work itself will be the essential ingredients in building a sustainable global workforce for decades to come.

Future-proofing through skills training

By the mid-2030s, 44% of workers with low education are at risk of losing their jobs to machines.

But government ministers from Sweden and Canada told the Davos panel that through virtual training programs and new jobs, automation, and artificial intelligence are set to create more opportunities than it takes away. "Technology is a great enabler," said Canada's minister of innovation, science and industry, François-Phillipe Champagne.

Nonetheless, both ministers admitted that there remains one big issue when it comes to automation: ensuring there are enough skilled workers to keep things running.

"Robots are going to be key to increasing productivity," Champagne said. The challenge will be investing in upskilling and reskilling the workers whose jobs will become redundant, he added.

Ongoing national education and training programs will be crucial, particularly as countries adapt to the "green transition," and encouraging worker migration to industrial hubs may also prove critical.

"After 10 to 15 years of giving subsidies to people to move to Stockholm to get jobs, now we have to think of how to get people to more from Stockholm or Gothenburg to the northern part of Sweden where the new industrial jobs are being created," Mikael Damberg, Sweden's minister of finance, said.

In well-populated nations like Bangladesh, however, governments will need to ensure there is enough work to go around. "Our population is one of our biggest strengths, and we need to transform this big population into a big human resource," Dipu Moni, minister of education in Bangladesh said.

Education, and giving people not just "technological know-how" but the skill of being able to constantly adapt to the changing nature of work itself is the only way to do this, said Moni.

The shifting shape of work

Yet this uncertainty about the future of work may be exacerbating the already-growing worldwide mental health crisis, one that disproportionately affects the world's poor — 77% of global suicides occur in middle- and low-income countries — and has had a knock-on effect on employment and employability.

According to Jos De Blok, founder of Dutch healthcare organization Buurtzorg, "we are creating depression through working conditions."

Workplaces must restructure, remove bureaucratic administration systems, allow for flexible working, and give workers the chance to manage themselves, in order to reduce negative health outcomes and produce a happy, productive workforce, he told the crowd at Davos.

This will also give workers a sense of purpose, which can help circumvent mental health issues, as Champagne put it, "people don't just want a job, they want something that will be meaningful in their lives."

Workplace issues cannot be disentangled from social issues and paying attention to not just worker's health but gender inequality and disability issues is pivotal to future-proofing work systems, panelists said.

A World Economic Forum report released today found that a new modeling of the United States' economy would see an investment of $1.3 trillion into social jobs like teaching, healthcare, and education, which could unlock $3.1 trillion in GDP returns and create 11 million jobs by 2030.

While Champagne urged the room that we should "empower the people," and treat social jobs with the value they deserve, De Blok countered, "But are we willing to reward them? Are we willing to increase their salaries?"

He told the audience that when it comes to caring for employees, "we need to put trust and humanity at the center."


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