Increased global connectivity, exponential advances in processing power, the flow and accumulation of data, and rapidly dropping price points are fueling technological innovation at a speed and scale we have not seen before. In the past, economies have benefited from technology change. But these shifts occurred over decades. Today, the cumulative effect of technology is accelerating progress exponentially.2 Internet penetration, mobile phones and data availability have skyrocketed, facilitated by the rapidly dropping cost of hardware.
While the impact of change cuts across the workforce, marginalized and vulnerable populations risk a ‘double disadvantage.’ This period of rapid technological acceleration brings opportunities as well as challenges. Nowhere is this more evident than in the labor market. Unlike prior technological shifts, which primarily affected low-skilled workers, today’s pace of change is impacting the entire global workforce. A 2016 study by the OECD of 21 developed countries suggests that 9% of jobs are automatable, with differences across countries ranging from 6% to 12%.4 However, across all countries, workers with a lower level of education are arguably at the highest risk of displacement. While 40% of workers with a lower secondary degree are in jobs with a high risk of job automation, less than 5% of workers with a tertiary degree are.5 While the extent of the impact on labor markets is still to be determined, what remains clear is that automation may disproportionately affect individuals who are already facing hardship. Populations that are vulnerable or marginalized today could face a ‘double disadvantage’ in the future, due to a lack of awareness, opportunity or means to adapt to these changes. Without a large-scale reskilling effort, these individuals are at greater risk of technological displacement and unemployment.
Factors influencing the digital economy are also redefining what the future of work will look like. Although each feature represents an individual dynamic, they also overlap and intertwine. The combination and the weighting of these characteristics will vary depending on organizations, sectors, geography and timeframe,11 but all are fundamental to how the workforce is evolving—particularly for low- and middle-skilled work. Understanding this new reality does not replace the need to prepare beneficiaries for in-demand jobs. Rather, it helps prepare them for their lifetime, beyond the work and jobs we can envision today. Jobs of the future may look very different. Accenture research has found that 74% of business and IT leaders from 31 countries say their organization is entering areas that have yet to be defined.9 At the same time, 95% of thought leaders, business executives, NGOs, and influencers in education across Asia, Europe and America believe they need new skills to work and stay relevant.10 While it is difficult to predict how jobs will evolve, our research, which draws upon Accenture’s 2017 Technology Vision and Digital Disruption reports, among others, has identified four dominant features of work in the digital economy: Digital & Human,