The Future of Jobs

A.J. Rohn


The 2016 World Economic Forum took place in Davos, Switzerland from January 20 to 23. The theme of the event was The Fourth Industrial Revolution. It included conferences, debates, and discussions on a wide variety of topics conducted by a great number of people representing organizations, nations, and themselves. These topics include climate change and sustainability, energy, geopolitics and security, global economics, regional studies, culture, and others relevant to geography. A playlist of videos from these conferences can be found on the Forum’s Youtube page

Although the third industrial revolution (IR) is still progressing, and our world continues to be shaped in many ways by the results of the first two, the World Economic Forum has begun to refer to some developments happening now in cyber­physical systems as the fourth IR. These systems are related to the third IR, but because of innovative combinations of previous technologies, the speed at which developments are occurring, and the scope of their impacts has awarded them their own designated revolution. These breakthroughs include artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, and more.

Timeline of the four Industrial Revolutions. Source: World Economic Forum
Timeline of the four Industrial Revolutions. Source: World Economic Forum

In accordance with these developments and anticipating their effects, a report on the future of jobs was released for this year’s Forum and discussed in a panel. The report highlighted concerns, challenges, and needs to create and fill jobs in our changing world. The concerns that accompany the fourth IR include deeper wealth inequality as employers and shareholders are most directly benefited, short term job loss, and changes to government. Government changes could be more power, like surveillance developments for example, or the undermining of governments if alternatives are developed for functions that they serve. Education is also a major challenge ­ perhaps the greatest ­ and its reformation is a major need. Education for the world of tomorrow must foster a “culture of creativity” and innovation. It must include appropriate job training and career advice. One specific question raised by the report is how today’s youth can be properly educated for jobs that do not even exist yet today?

A survey of hundreds of executives and other chief officers from many companies was conducted for the report. A question regarding the drivers of change was among the many asked. Results showed that changes are believed to be driven by a “changing nature of work”, emerging markets’ development, climate change, changing consumer ethics, and women’s economic power. Another finding was a commonly held expectation for these changes to occur on a large scale over the course of the next five years. If that is true, then the aforementioned short term job loss will occur in the near future. Soon afterward, jobs that the world has never seen can be created, training for them can be provided, and the future of jobs can be reached. Everyone involved seemed quite optimistic, but only time will tell what the future holds.

This discussion can be viewed here (and many more relevant videos can be found on the same playlist):


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About the author
A.J. Rohn
A.J. is a recent graduate of the Geography and Environmental Studies programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a passion for writing and interests in areas ranging from ecology to geosophy to geopolitics. He enjoys the geography of Wisconsin, be it the north woods or city life in Madison. He loves to read research papers in geography, books by scholars like Yi-Fu Tuan and Bill Cronon (both at UW-Madison), as well as classic fiction writers like Thomas Pynchon and Fyodor Dostoevsky. He is very much inspired by the work of all the people he encountered in Madison’s geography department, so expect a wide range of topics when reading his articles here.

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