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The future of work: how pandemic has accelerated the transformation

In the last year, work has changed drastically. The covid-19 outbreak has affected the economy, businesses and working lives and has accelerated disruptions which were already present before the pandemic. As a result, “millions of people were furloughed or lost jobs, and others rapidly adjusted to working from home as offices closed” (McKinsey Global Institute, 2021).

The disruption caused by Covid meant many businesses couldn’t operate in the usual way. Many of their employees couldn’t go to work and customers couldn’t buy their products or services. In this context, some businesses were able to cope with that crisis, for instance by using their savings to cover expenses; yet, many others had to cut costs by furloughing their employees or letting them go, thus many people have lost their job or part of their income.

The coming of the pandemic has, as never before, elevated the importance of the physical dimension of work. According to the McKinsey Global Institute (2021), jobs can be reclassified based on their physical proximity, that is the level of physical interactions with coworkers and customers involved in each activity. This division is particularly useful since, according to this study, jobs with a high level of physical presence are likely to be the most disrupted. For instance, on-site customer service in banks, retail stores and post offices has shifted towards e-commerce and remote work, whereas the rise of online meeting has drastically reduced especially business travels.
These transformations are likely to last for the post-covid. Indeed, as expressed in figure 1 relating to the US market, although the ecommerce industry penetration was expected to grow by 21,67% for the next few years, the new forecasts since the effects of the pandemic were felt highlight that the predictions increased to 34,43%. This means that the ecommerce industry will become even more important, with more and more people shopping online.

Furthermore, a survey conducted on a sample of over 15,000 business people across 80 nations revealed that 80% of people, when faced with two similar jobs, would turn down the position that didn’t offer flexible working conditions; additionally 99% of remote workers would like to continue with working remotely at least part-time for the rest of their careers (Global remote working Data & Statistics, 2020).

According to these data, workers, especially those carrying out low-skilled jobs, are called to face a huge transition. Indeed, according to the Future of Jobs Report 2020, 85 million jobs will be displaced across 26 countries by 2025, while 97 million will be added. Furthermore nearly half (50%) of all workers will need reskilling (Zahidi, 2021).

The extent of this rapid transformation due to COVID-19 increases the necessity for policymakers and companies to take steps to support additional training and education programs for workers. For instance, several companies, such as IBM, Bosch, and Barclays, during the 2020 started apprenticeship programs to train workers for tech jobs with career pathways. In practice, upskilling means giving an employee the tools necessary to advance vertically along their current career path. Indeed “studies have found that re-training existing employees with proven track records is typically far more cost-effective than hiring new people”(McKinsey, 2021).This approach would provide several benefits inside the organizations, i.e. reducing employee turnover, improving workplace morale and retaining talents in the workforce.
Finally, besides deploying online learning to support workers, another method that enterprises can implement in order to support the digital transition is developing new approaches to hiring for skills and potential rather than degrees (Fuller, 2017). This approach is a growing trend and it is absolutely crucial for companies which are to find the talents they need to tackle the coming challenges. Moreover, as the types of skills needed in the labour market change rapidly, “individual workers will have to engage in life-long learning if they are to remain not just employable but are to achieve fulfilling and rewarding careers that allow them to maximize their employment opportunities” (Schwab, 2018).



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