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The Future of Work: 5 Things That Are Changing Right Now

Posted by Amanda Taylor on Thursday, July 30, 2020

In 2019, the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) published a report titled, The future of work in America, analyzing the disparate impacts of automation on jobs across the country. The report stated that in the decade ahead, the next wave of automation technologies may accelerate the pace of change and that the future of work is coming at us faster than we may have expected. At the time, no one could have imagined what 2020 had in store for our region, state, country, and world. COVID-19 has unequivocally accelerated the pace of change the MGI report described. The future of work is here, and we have no choice but to understand and respond.

We talk a lot about the future of work within the GREATER MSP Partnership as we consider strategies for recovery and reimagination of the Greater MSP regional economy, but what is the future of work? In this post, we describe five things that are changing right now, as a starting place for what is to become a critical scope of strategies for action in our region and state. Now is the time that partners must come together through policy and practice to rethink how we prepare our workforce for enduring, resilient job opportunities. There is much to study, to discuss, to understand, and to do. 

What is the future of work?

  1. New industries are emerging

Industries are being transformed by technology and new industries are emerging that never existed before. Some of these emerging industries have been growing over the last several years and now have the economics to grow more widespread at lower costs. Described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, our region should be prepared for a major disruption in manufacturing as companies move toward automation. This is important in our region because of the concentration of manufacturing employment. The Greater MSP region has the 7th largest manufacturing workforce in the nation with a high concentration of high-precision products and processes. One example in this category is 3D printing, additive manufacturing, and rapid prototyping services. As the cost of 3D-printed components decreases, it is expected that precision manufacturing is poised to transform, particularly in medical and aerospace sectors where many small complex components can be printed at scale.

Technology is enabling the growth of another critical industry in the Greater MSP region and that is digital health. MSP is located within Medical Alley, the Global Epicenter of Health Innovation and Care™, the world’s leading health technology cluster. The demand for digital health solutions has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, fast-tracking the adoption of telemedicine and tech-enabled health solutions.  Supporting the growth of startups and innovation in digital health will be a key strategy for the region to support the growth of future of work industries.

  1. New jobs are being created

The digital transformation across industries is changing the kind of jobs that are going to be demanded by employers. It is also changing the composition and size of the workforce. According to LinkedIn, the top emerging jobs in 2020 - the jobs that have seen the highest growth rate in the number of professionals on the platform - are technology-related. These include: artificial intelligence specialist, robotics engineer, data scientist, full-stack engineer, and site reliability engineer. Jobs that help people navigate technology and prepare employers as they adopt new technology are also emerging, including customer success specialists, sales development representatives, and cybersecurity specialists. To learn more about the growing data science community in the Greater MSP region, check out our post on our partnership with the Twin Cities Data Viz Group.

What is clear is that there are a lot of jobs that exist now that will be displaced by automation. In The future of work in America report, McKinsey found that 40% of work activities have the potential to be automated, with the highest percent of technically automatable activities in manufacturing, accommodation/food service, and retail trade. The impact of job displacements from automation varies by region based on the industry makeup of the region. McKinsey found that job displacements in the Greater MSP metro are approximately 22%, slightly lower than national levels. Our region is cushioned by our already high concentration of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, but the risk is still high for displacement, particularly for women and BIPOC workers.

  1. New skills are demanded

Jobs are transforming to meet the demand of employers in emerging industries and employers are undergoing significant transformations to remain competitive and operate with greater resiliency. There is considerable pressure on the workforce to gain new skills to meet the demands of employers or risk being displaced. Figuring out, and solving, the skills mismatch that is emerging is a core challenge for our region. The disconnect between job seekers and opportunities is evident in our regional labor data. In June 2020, there were 130,000 unfilled jobs in the Greater MSP region and about 126,000 unemployed workers in the labor force. (This number doesn’t include the number of adults who stopped looking for employment and are not included in the labor force.) If public and private sector partners could more effectively connect and prepare workers for jobs, our region would be positioned to see higher rates of job and output growth.

As we heard from Peter’s discussion with Jeff Tollefson, technology skills are going to be critical for the workforce to be prepared for the future of work. Growing tech skills in demand include skills like machine learning, deep learning, information security, robotics, data science, and software as a service. But it is not just technical skills that are growing in demand. The future of the tech industry relies heavily on people skills. A few roles represented in the LinkedIn Emerging Jobs report – product owner, customer success specialist, and sales development representative – represent the demand for workers with people skills, which can’t be automated. Skills like critical thinking, troubleshooting, creativity, and people management, especially in manufacturing where facilities will become heavily automated, will grow in demand.

  1. New ways of working are here to stay

The COVID-19 pandemic has made one future of work concept easy to see and understand, and that is work from home and remote work. Employers were forced to fast-track a transition to remote work in a matter of weeks due to stay-at-home orders. Employers have learned over the last four months that worker productivity has remained high and workers have enjoyed the flexibility that remote work offers. Leading experts on the subject are declaring that there is no reversal of this trend, but likely a lot of adjustments as we learn more about how companies can maintain high productivity and workers find balance in the new arrangement. Research published in June 2020 from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that of those employed pre-COVID-19, about half are now working from home, including 35.2% who report they were commuting and recently switched to working from home. States with a higher share of employment in information work including management, professional and related occupations were more likely to shift toward working from home and had fewer people laid off or furloughed. The transition to remote work was enabled by technology, and the ability of our region to attract and retain professionals will require employers to adjust to flexible schedules and find new ways to measure worker productivity.

  1. New pathways to employment require bold new approaches

We know that the rapid change in work will require a rethinking of the way workers gain skills and education. It is a major challenge. Traditional pathways to employment were designed at a time when a college degree or certificate led directly to a job and workers could progress at companies with that degree as a foundation. For our region to respond to the changes of future of work we will have to think differently about how, and when, workers gain skills. Learning must be continuous and is not necessarily happening in a linear fashion. So how do workers gain new skills while they are already working? Are colleges and universities evolving to train students to gain the emerging skills demanded by employers? These are the questions that must be discussed and rethought.

The GREATER MSP Partnership is actively examining these future of work dynamics and working with partners to develop strategies and solutions to better prepare the region for this transformation. While there is still much we have to learn about the future of work, we know with certainty that solutions will require collaborative and innovative thinking. The intel team will be diving deeper into these topics over the coming months with more actionable insights to support this work.