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  • David A. Smith

Accelerating jobs, tasks and skills

As a direct result of COVID-19, the ILO estimated on March 18th that up to 24.9 million jobs could be lost[i], with underemployment many magnitudes higher. It is likely that swathes of these jobs will not be restored in their original capacity once the acute phase of the COVID-19 crisis passes. For organisations with risky, opaque or else vulnerable supply chains, reshoring capacity to home markets will likely form an immediate priority. Political pressure could exacerbate this trend while automation could in part counter the impact, but the nature of jobs, skills and tasks in a post COVID-19 world are unlikely to resemble those of today, to say nothing of changing purpose, perceived societal value and attractiveness to potential employees.

​​SMXLTake enabling technologies such as additive manufacturing, for example. Pre-pandemic studies from 2019 estimate the impact of additive manufacturing on global trade anywhere from eliminating 40 percent to lowering world trade by 10 percent by 2030[ii]. Large scale importers of cars, such as the U.S, could see increases in local production[iii], since 3D printing could reduce the cost of developing an entirely new vehicle from $600 million at present to just $60 million[iv]. However, the reshoring of manufacturing can unlikely be achieved solely by 3D printing, as some 500,000 unfilled jobs exist in the U.S alone thanks to a manufacturing skills deficit[v]. Sweeping automation stands out as one quasi-plausible solution but perhaps a more sustainable one from a societal perspective can be found in how we acquire skills.

The current education infrastructure would appear incapable of systematically producing the skills needed in the quantity desired. With numerous efforts to provide virtual education currently being trialled, the winners of such endeavours could readily provide a whole new way to structure learning. The World Economic Forum implies that the forced trial of new technologies in education will go beyond just doing things differently to doing different things. ‘Learning,’ it states, ‘...could become a habit that is integrated into daily routines - a true lifestyle[vi].’

If a micro-accreditation system does indeed appear imminently, the whole paradigm of tasks, jobs and skills will change. A three-year degree may no longer be needed to prove aptitude, while agility becomes inherently more achievable for both individuals and organisations. This also suggests that the gig economy would broaden to include swathes of white collar work performed outside core teams. One potential irony is that the implied greater focus on the immediate could further relegate the long-term view. The evolution of the platformed business model, especially given the COVID-19 crisis, is posing new and immediate ‘challenges for regulators, workers and established businesses in the formal economy[vii].’ Businesses everywhere now should accelerate their plans for creating, staffing and sustaining the jobs that will drive their future success.


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