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    Pandemic hastens labor shift from people to robots

    China Daily | Updated: 2020-10-22 09:50
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    Alexia the robot waits on patrons at a bar at the Plaza del Castillo in Pamplona, northern Spain, in June. ALVARO BARRIENTOS/AP

    GENEVA/ZURICH-As automation and online work gain ground, organizers of the annual Davos forum are projecting employers will split work equally between machines and people by 2025, with the coronavirus pandemic accelerating changes in the labor market.

    The World Economic Forum, or WEF, in a report released on Wednesday on the future of jobs, expects that a new division of labor between humans and machines will eliminate some 85 million jobs globally across 15 industries. But it also expects that 97 million new roles will emerge in sectors like artificial intelligence, content creation and "the care economy" involving children and the elderly.

    Two years ago, the forum predicted more jobs created, 133 million, and fewer lost, 75 million.

    Surveys of nearly 300 global companies found four out of five business executives were accelerating plans to digitize work and deploy new technologies, undoing employment gains made since the financial crisis of 2007-08.

    "In essence, the rate of job destruction has gone up and the rate of job creation has gone down," said WEF managing director Saadia Zahidi. "The good news is that overall, the jobs that are being created still are in greater numbers than the jobs that are being destroyed. But the rate has changed and that's obviously going to make it difficult for workers to find their next role."

    For workers set to remain in their roles in the next five years, nearly half would need to learn new skills, and by 2025, employers will divide work between humans and machines equally, the study found.

    Overall, job creation is slowing and job destruction is accelerating as companies around the world use technology rather than people for data entry, accounting and administration duties.

    The forum, an event organizer and think tank, says jobs involving data entry, accounting and administrative support are set to decline, while it pointed to upsides for "front-line workers" like nurses, grocery store workers, postal workers and care workers who have shown their importance during the COVID crisis.

    "For those workers, there may be some good news in the future because there will be upward wage pressure and much more recognition of the type of work they do," Zahidi said.

    Under pressure

    But sectors like aviation and tourism, which have been "on pause" during the crisis, could come under intense pressure if the COVID crisis continues, leading to permanent job losses, she said.

    Meanwhile, automation is taking on a greater importance in the global economy overall.

    "When you look at the tasks of today, in just another five years, by 2025, those tasks will be equally done by machines, if you will-so robots and algorithms-as people," Zahidi said in an interview at WEF headquarters. "However, that doesn't mean that new jobs won't emerge and they will certainly be emerging, from all that we are able to find in the data."

    The COVID-19 crisis has had a far worse impact on people with lower education than the 2008 financial crisis, and is more likely to deepen inequalities, the report said.

    The report calls on governments to do more to help workers by strengthening social safety nets, boosting educational offerings and providing incentives to invest in the jobs of tomorrow.

    Agencies via Xinhua

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