Disruption is the watchword of work in 2021, and it holds both challenges and extraordinary potential, according to the Randstad report flexibility@work: embracing change

Health and jobs intertwined

“The world of work is always about people,” said Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and nowhere has this been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic, which, he observed, “has been defined as a uniquely human crisis, affecting both people’s health and people’s jobs.”

According to the Randstad report, this event accelerated the pace of global digitization and the growth of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). The way we prepare people for the workplace must change to accommodate the shifting labor market.

“Through a focus on training and reskilling, we have an opportunity to future-proof workers and companies alike, increasing their resilience and effectiveness in the face of any challenge. The value of this in response to automation was well understood before the crisis. Now it is a matter of urgency and necessity,” said Randstad CEO Jacques van den Broek.

Humanizing the future

The lockdowns have provided a “benchmark of insights to work from as we navigate the road ahead,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, which represents 200 million workers in 163 countries and territories. 

Burrow elaborated: “A series of crises has led to an approach where the world of work with related businesses has been characterized as winners and losers. We must replace this with a better understanding of the human and climate impact and consequences of decisions. If we’re not collectively committed to building a future where everybody has a commitment to the rule of law, to justice, to shared prosperity, to the maintenance of a stable environment — what does that say about us as human beings?”

Growth of remote work, gig economy, automation

One result of the pandemic is that work has become less rigid. While traditional contracts still exist, the gig economy and temp agency work are on the rise, driven by technology and increased connectivity, along with a shifting cultural mindset. Temp work has seen the greatest gains: in high-income nations, 5-25% of all workers have fixed-term contracts, enabling companies to quickly adapt their workforce composition to meet changing demands.

At the same time that technology is fueling the future, it’s also, inevitably, causing a loss of jobs, as industries and business needs shift. More than a fourth of American jobs will become automated this decade, according to the report, in key employment sectors including food preparation, office administration, and transportation. 

Yet upcoming technologies such as AI, robotics, and electric vehicles will also create new jobs and opportunities. The World Economic Forum predicts that 133 million new roles will emerge by 2022. Many of these emerging jobs will be higher paid and less repetitive than those they replace, but workers will need a new set of skills to perform them. 

Soft skills are critical

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report notes that within a decade, soft skills such as critical thinking, creativity and emotional intelligence will be as much in demand as technical expertise.

Talent mobility is shaping our future as much as a remote workforce. There will be more than 10 billion people on Earth by 2060. According to the United Nations, 272 million people currently work outside their country of origin, an increase of 50 million since 2010. Thus, the relationship between geographic location and career prospects is increasingly indistinct — and the potential for a more diverse and inclusive global workforce is expanding exponentially.

Sustainability: Linchpin for global success

Finally, a globally diverse, inclusive, and sustainable workforce is essential. The report stated, “Labor market mobility is crucial for the long-term success of every nation, especially those facing the dual challenge of aging populations and skills shortages. To ensure that growth is sustainable in the years ahead, we have to mobilize the talent, perspectives, and resources of many more people. We need to ensure they can access decent work and help them thrive as part of the global economy.”

Core elements of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development include: 

  •     Zero poverty or hunger
  •     Quality education
  •     Gender equality
  •     Affordable, clean energy
  •     Decent work and economic growth
  •     Climate action
  •     Industry, innovation, and infrastructure

For more insights, download the full report.