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Roles are rapidly shifting–and company leaders will need to keep up in 2024.
Changes in demand and technology have created and killed jobs throughout history, says Carl Benedikt Frey, a professor of AI and work at the Oxford Internet Institute, a research hub at the University of Oxford. For instance, jobs like sommeliers and hot yoga instructors arose from developing consumer desires, he says, while roles in the automobile and biotech industries sprouted from breakthrough innovations.
But now, there’s more movement in the labor market than usual, according to a McKinsey report released earlier this year. From 2019 to 2022, the labor market experienced 8.6 million occupational shifts. That’s 50 percent more than in the prior three-year period, and the report projects that another 12 million shifts could come by 2030, thanks to increasing health care demand, digitization, and other factors.
Here’s what leaders and their teams might expect to see in the evolving job landscape in the year ahead, and how they can best prepare to meet those changes:
New technology will make some roles redundant
While technology and digitization are helping some jobs grow, they’re expediting the decline of others, according to this year’s Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum. By 2027, the report forecasts, there could be 26 million fewer jobs in bookkeeping, executive secretarial work, administration, and similar areas of work.
AI–and generative AI, in particular–is expected to play a key role here. In April, a Goldman Sachs report estimated that 300 million jobs could be “exposed to automation” thanks to recent AI advancements.
But jobs don’t disappear overnight, Frey cautions: Switchboard operators and elevator operators, for instance, faded over the course of many years. And while AI requires less physical infrastructure–which could speed up the uptake–Frey’s “hunch is that it is not going to improve quite as fast as some people expect.”
So, employers should think in terms of tasks, not jobs
Indeed, while entire occupations may not become obsolete in 2024, parts of roles might. The McKinsey report estimates that, because of AI and other factors, “activities that account for up to 30 percent of hours currently worked across the U.S. economy could be automated” by 2030.
As a result, company leaders should start to think about the jobs within their companies as “a combination of different tasks” to determine the best path forward, says Stephan Meier, a professor of business strategy at Columbia Business School.
For instance, an analysis from Accenture earlier this year broke down a customer service role into 13 tasks and determined how each might be impacted by AI. It found that four tasks would continue to be performed mainly by humans, another four could be fully automated, and five could be augmented by AI technology.
Separating a job into tasks “makes it a little bit less zero-one,” Meier says. “It’s more: What tasks are going to remain the same? And what are not?”
Meanwhile, new roles will grow
And yet, thanks to technology and other trends, other jobs will likely become even more crucial this year.
The WEF identified “AI and machine learning specialists” as the fastest-growing job in this year’s report. Sustainability is also driving job growth, with roles like sustainability specialists and renewable energy engineers gaining traction, pointing to the green transition as “both a significant and developing labor-market trend” heading into 2024, per the report.
Specific changes in company workflows could also spark new roles next year. For instance, if a company introduces more AI technology, its leadership may need fewer junior software developers, but could realize a new need for someone to create prompts for generative AI or review AI output for errors, says Gartner analyst Emily Rose McRae.
But along with new job titles, new skills will emerge as especially important in 2024, says Kweilin Ellingrud, senior partner and director of the McKinsey Global Institute. For instance, “as you look across different jobs, we’re all going to need more social and emotional skills,” she says, as in-person connection could become a bigger differentiator when other tasks are automated.
How to meet the changes coming in the year ahead
With the sheer amount of change that employers could start seeing in 2024, the path forward could be bumpy, Meier says: “There are going to be hard decisions. There [are] also going to be some employees who have to change.” This could mean moving away from their current job or upskilling in their current role, Meier says, “and that’s hard to communicate and facilitate.”
But developing a plan for shifting, upskilling, and reskilling is critical, especially as companies face a still-tight labor market, Ellingrud adds. And on this front, companies are underprepared: While six in 10 workers will need training before 2027, only half “are seen to have access to adequate training opportunities today,” per the WEF report.
To start, company leaders should take a hard look at their own workflows and roles, McRae says. On the AI front, for instance, there won’t be a singular, universal impact on the workforce, she says: “Instead … what is this going to mean for our workforce? How do we want to think through how we’re going to use these tools?”
From there, company leaders can create a plan for how to move employees from shrinking tasks to roles designed for the future, Ellingrud says. Instead of training administrative assistants at scale–or another job that could drastically change–employers should keep their eyes on “where the puck is going,” she says, “so that we’re training for the right jobs of the future and building those skills.”
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BY MARCEL SCHWANTES AND CARL PHILLIPS