Watch CBS News

​The robot revolution will take 5 million jobs from humans

Robots are gunning for your job.

The "Fourth Industrial Revolution" is already underway, according to a report from the World Economic Forum, which is focusing on how technological change is reshaping the workplace and global economies at its meeting this week in Davos, Switzerland. Developments in fields including robotics, big data, and artificial intelligence will change workplaces and the required different skills from workers in the years to come, according to "The Future of Jobs" report.

Not everyone will be impacted equally, with the report concluding that the jobs most at risk are office and administrative roles. Other industries with negative job outlooks include manufacturing and production, the arts and entertainment, construction and extraction, and installation and maintenance. Overall, automation and robotics will cause 5.1 million job losses over the next five years, the researchers found.

"As entire industries adjust, most occupations are undergoing a fundamental transformation," wrote World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab and managing board member Richard Samans in the report. "While some jobs are threatened by redundancy and others grow rapidly, existing jobs are also going through a change in the skill sets required to do them."

The findings are based on a survey of 371 global companies with more than 13 million employees in 15 major developed and emerging economies.

Office and administrative jobs will face what the report calls "a perfect storm of technological trends." Mobile internet and cloud technology will make some jobs redundant, while big data analytics and the Internet of things will also reduce the need for workers in these roles, the research found.

About 7.1 million jobs will be shed, with two-thirds of those losses concentrated in office and administrative categories. That will be somewhat offset by the gain of 2 million new jobs in areas such as business and financial operations. The net result? About 5.1 million fewer jobs overall by 2020, the report noted.

While that might seem frightening, especially to office managers, the World Economic Forum's forecast is hardly predicting the kind of doom that Oxford researchers predicted last year. According to that report, almost half of U.S. jobs are at risk, with household service robots and automation projected to sharply reduce the need for workers.

The job market is already changing quickly in response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with employers seeking workers with STEM-related skills and experience. But almost four out of 10 employers report having difficulties finding qualified workers, which suggests that the education system isn't retooling quickly enough to provide students with the skills they'll need to weather the labor market.

"It is simply not possible to weather the current technological revolution by waiting for the next generation's workforce to become better prepared," the report noted. "Instead it is critical that businesses take an active role in supporting their current workforces through re-training, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning."

While "The Future of Work" doesn't delve into economic inequality, their forecast has troubling implications for how the robotics revolution may exacerbate already widening gaps between the haves and have-nots, based on issues ranging from gender to geographic location.

Any industrial revolution comes with growing pains, and among those most likely to feel the brunt of it are women, given that some of the fields with the highest projected growth -- such as in computers and math -- have the lowest rates of female workforce participation. That underscores the need to reexamine why women aren't pursuing so-called STEM fields, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Because STEM-related jobs tend to pay higher salaries than other industries, it means fewer women may reach earnings parity with their male cohorts in the coming years.

And then there is the widening gap between rich and poor countries. The Fourth Industrial Revolution could make that worse, with poor countries losing jobs to automation, increasing the jobless rates there and creating even bigger refugee waves. The Middle East and North Africa have the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and many of the countries in those regions are failing to equip their youths with the skills necessarily to thrive in a world driven by AIs, robots, and automation, the report noted.

"The region runs the risk of worsening unemployment and talent shortages if skills gaps are exacerbated due to technological changes that further disrupt business models and labour markets," it warned.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.