Artificial intelligence revolution to displace 83m jobs by 2027

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 02 May 2023

Employers across the globe anticipate 69 million new jobs will be created and 83 million eliminated by 2027, as a result of the adoption of new technology and increased digital access.

This is one of the key findings of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) The Future of Jobs Report 2023, which explores how jobs and skills will evolve over the next five years.

According to the 803 companies surveyed for the report, employers anticipate almost a quarter of jobs (23%) to change in the next five years through growth of 10.2% and a decline of 12.3%.

Among the 673 million current jobs corresponding to the dataset, this represents a net decrease of 14 million jobs, or 2% of current employment.

Macro trends − including the green transition; environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards; localisation of supply chains; and tech advancements − are the leading drivers of job growth, states the report.

Economic challenges − including high inflation, slower economic growth, supply shortages and inflation − pose the greatest threat, it adds.

The fastest-growing jobs are forecast to be artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning specialists, sustainability specialists, business intelligence analysts and information security specialists. The largest absolute growth is expected in education, agriculture and digital commerce.

“For people around the world, the past three years have been filled with upheaval and uncertainty for their lives and livelihoods, with COVID-19, geopolitical and economic shifts; and the rapid advancement of AI and other technologies are now risks adding more uncertainty,” says Saadia Zahidi, MD of the WEF.

“The good news is that there is a clear way forward to ensure resilience. Governments and businesses must invest in supporting the shift to the jobs of the future through the education, reskilling and social support structures that can ensure individuals are at the heart of the future of work.”

While technology continues to pose challenges and opportunities to labour markets, employers expect most technologies to contribute positively to job creation.

According to the People’s Charter on Jobs in Africa, heavy investments in the technology and digital industries could see the creation of at least 15 million new jobs in Africa by 2025.

Dr Suzanne Gildert, SingularityU faculty member in robotics and AI, believes human-like robots, which have the capability to accrue abilities, skills and knowledge the same way humans do, will in the long-term replace every job under the sun, as a result of advancements in robotics.

According to The Future of Jobs Report 2023, the fastest-growing roles are being driven by big data and AI, which are expected to create the highest number of future jobs, with 75% of survey respondents expecting job growth in this area.

The employment of data analysts and scientists, big data specialists, AI machine learning specialists and cyber security professionals is expected to grow on average by 30% by 2027.

“AI, a key driver of potential algorithmic displacement, is expected to be adopted by nearly 75% of surveyed companies and is expected to lead to high churn – with 50% of organisations expecting it to create job growth and 25% expecting it to create job losses,” it says.

Training workers to utilise AI and big data will be prioritised by 42% of surveyed companies in the next five years, ranking behind analytical thinking (48%) and creative thinking (43%) in importance.

This, as IBM announced this week that it expects to pause hiring for as many as 7 800 jobs, which could be replaced by AI in the coming years.

Digital commerce will lead to the largest absolute gains in jobs: approximately two million new digitally-enabled roles are expected, such as e-commerce specialists, digital transformation specialists, and digital marketing and strategy specialists, notes the report.

“But while expectations of the displacement of physical and manual work by machines has decreased, reasoning, communicating and coordinating – all traits with a comparative advantage for humans – are expected to be more automatable in the future.”

Urgent reskilling, upskilling

Companies report that skills gaps and an inability to attract talent are the key barriers to transformation, showing a clear need for training and reskilling across industries, says the WEF.

Six in 10 workers will require training before 2027, but only half of employees are seen to have access to adequate training opportunities today. At the same time, the report estimates that, on average, 44% of an individual worker’s skills will need to be updated.

Strong cognitive skills are increasingly valued by employers, reflecting the growing importance of complex problem-solving in the workplace. The most important skills for workers in 2023 are seen to be analytical thinking and creative thinking, and this is expected to remain so in the next five years.

“Our research found that individuals without degrees can acquire critical skills in a comparable time-frame to those with degrees, highlighting the potential for innovative approaches, such as industry micro-credentials and skills-based hiring, to tackle skills gaps and talent shortages,” says Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, who participated in the study.

“However, it will require collective action from public and private sectors to provide the affordable, flexible reskilling pathways at scale that displaced workers need to transition into jobs of the future.”

Rise of green jobs

Investment in the green transition and climate-change mitigation, as well as increasing consumer awareness of sustainability issues, are driving industry transformation and opening new opportunities in the labour market, says the report.

It notes the strongest net job creation effects are expected to be driven by investments that facilitate the green transition of businesses, with more than half of respondents expecting this to occur.

As countries seek more renewable energy sources, roles such as renewable energy engineers and solar energy installation and systems engineers will be in high demand, it adds.

“Investment will also drive growth in more generalist sustainability roles, such as sustainability specialists and environmental protection professionals, which are expected to grow by 33% and 34%, respectively, translating to growth of approximately one million jobs,” says the WEF.