'Robo-sapiens' era will force 100 million workers to switch jobs by 2030, BofA says

Humans and machines could be spending equal time completing work tasks by 2025, with the number of robots doubling to 5 million

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The rapid pace of technology disruption will transform workers' lives and create new professions as the global economy enters an era of “robo-sapiens”, according to Bank of America Securities.

This will force about 100 million workers to switch occupations by 2030.

A $14 trillion opportunity exists for the future of work, where humans and robots will collaborate, the bank said in a report.

“The future of work is not zero-sum between humanity and technology. We believe humans can collaborate with and work alongside robots, rather than be displaced by them, and that technology can create more jobs than it destroys,” said BofA Securities.

These “new-collar” jobs could emerge in sectors ranging from health care to renewables, with humans expected to have more leisure time as machines relieve people of mundane, repetitive daily tasks.

The future of work is not zero-sum between humanity and technology

Technology, industrials, medical technology and education are among the key sectors that stand to benefit as companies upskill and retrain workers.

However, the commercial property and the legacy transport sectors face headwinds.

By 2025 alone, automation will result in a net addition of 12 million jobs as robots eliminate 85 million jobs but create 97 million new ones, according to the World Economic Forum.

The next decade will be marked by “unprecedented change” in the world of work, the BofA Securities report said.

Humans and machines could spend an equal amount of time completing work tasks by 2025, with the global robot installed base doubling to 5 million units compared with 2019 levels.

The field of “cobots” – the collaboration between humans and industrial robots – is a fast-growing area with a projected compound annual growth rate of 50 per cent through to 2023.

Apart from white and blue-collar work, the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to spur a boom in pink, green and new-collar jobs, BofA Securities said.

Pink-collar jobs are professions in the care economy such as doctors, nurses, psychologists, teachers and childcare providers.

Green-collar jobs involve work in the clean energy sector performed by solar engineers, wind technicians and battery experts while new-collar jobs are focused on technology, cyber security and coding.

A transforming world could lead to some “truly futuristic” jobs that have yet to be invented. Some of these new roles could be data privacy managers, nanomedicine surgeons, lab meat scientists, space tourist guides, freelance biohackers, AI avatar designers, 3D food printer chefs, leisure time planners, ethical algorithm programmers and brain simulation specialists, according to the report.

“We are at the early stages of ‘Eureka! Future tech’, where we think the exponential growth of moonshot technology will create a new wave of professions that we have not even thought of yet,” the report's authors said.

Many jobs of the future have yet to be created, they said, with 65 per cent of children starting school today expected to work in jobs that do not exist at this time.

“Covid may spark rapid growth in new types of occupation,” the report's authors said.

For example, companies may hire a work-from-home integration manager to ensure that new technology and equipment are in place to make remote work a success.

Organisations with a renewed focus on health and hygiene may hire office disinfectors or chief medical officers.

New occupations such as smart home designers and algorithm bias checkers – who ensure algorithms do not lead to discriminatory decisions – are emerging.

“Around the globe, growing demand for automation, AI and digitisation will spur the need for a wide range of workers such as robot repair technicians and 3D printing engineers,” said BofA Securities.

new report by McKinsey Global Institute said the need for workers to switch occupations would lead to the reskilling of workers – a post-Covid future that chief executives must prepare for.

Ageing populations, higher consumer incomes and the pandemic will drive growth in healthcare jobs while transport jobs will grow due to high demand for delivery and e-commerce, according to the McKinsey Global Institute report.

The customer service, sales, warehousing and computer-based work segments will be hit the hardest in terms of jobs lost.

People in these declining job categories will need to be retrained to take up new occupations.

“The challenge is not only the large numbers but the jumps they will need to make are much higher than in the past,” said Susan Lund, McKinsey Global Institute leader and a labour market expert.

“We will need to figure out how to help them to transition to different career pathways. This will disproportionately affect women – four times as many as men – and people without college degrees, as well as young people and ethnic minorities.”

While there are areas where humans can beat machines, including jobs that require creativity or social intelligence, the BofA Securities report said the risks posed by robots should not be disregarded.

Adopting technology could displace about 2 billion jobs by 2030. Up to 47 per cent of US jobs could be at risk from computerisation over the next 20 years. This figure could reach 85 per cent in emerging markets, BofA Securities said.

Emerging markets such as India and China are at the greatest risk of facing skills disruption due to the trend, according to the report.

Ethiopia, Cambodia and Bangladesh are the three countries that face the greatest risk from automation as the majority of work performed in these countries can be done by robots.

“The most worrying trend is that emerging market jobs are most at risk of automation because of the low or mid-skilled nature of sectors such as manufacturing, highlighting the risk of ‘premature deindustrialisation’.”

Premature deindustrialisation refers to a situation where countries hit peak manufacturing before they traverse the economic development curve sufficiently.

“Economic history tells us the traditional route to prosperity has been for countries to move from an agrarian economy towards manufacturing via industrialisation, for example, the UK in the early 19th century, the US in the late 19th century and, more recently, China at the turn of the 20th century,” the report said.

Bypassing industrialisation could lead to the displacement of manual labour as automation becomes more sophisticated.