Scenarios and their Implications
The world of work is undergoing a period of dramatic change. As automation, primarily
in the form of robotics, artificial intelligence and other new technologies, are developing
at an unprecedented rate, and are having a significant impact on multiple industries,
they are leading to wide-ranging changes to the jobs, tasks and skills required within
each sector. Concurrently, a number of other factors, such as labour mobility and
migration; demographic change; changes in the delivery and quality of education and skills;
and growing talent needs in sectors such as infrastructure, healthcare and education are
also changing the nature and quality of work.
In this White Paper, we provide various scenarios of what the future of work might look
like by the year 2030. These scenarios present possible outcomes based on how different
combinations of key variables—some of them already in effect and underway—are likely to
influence the nature of work in the future. We have selected three core variables—the rate
of technological change and its impact on business models; the evolution of learning
among the current and future workforce; and the magnitude of talent mobility across geographies—to map out potential scenarios. While these scenarios are designed to create a basis for discussion among policy-makers,
businesses, academic institutions and individuals, and to support them in anticipating
and preparing for the changes to come, they are not predictions. Indeed, our intention in
this work is to demonstrate that the future is not pre-determined. All of the scenarios we
present are possible, but none is certain. The most likely outcome is a combination, with
different scenarios playing out simultaneously in different geographies, industries, age
cohorts and socio-economic groups.
No single actor—a government, business, individual, educational institution or union,
among others—can decisively impact all of the variables, or indeed any single one of them. We
therefore treat these variables as exogenous factors for the purpose of generating different
possible scenario worlds. However, while actors cannot definitively choose to bring
about any scenario that they might prefer on their own, through collaboration they
can seek to manage the changes underway already and influence the future, taking action
in the direction they desire. The implications of these scenarios, therefore, include
dialogue to determine societal preferences and measures to proactively shape current
trends or execute well-planned responses.
In the first section, we explain why scenarios are a useful tool to address the uncertainties
around the future of work and describe the framework used to generate them. Next,
the eight scenarios—developed on the basis of the framework—are described. In
the last section, we explore the implications of these scenarios and possible actions to
take in the face of an uncertain future.
This document is one of a series from the World Economic Forum’s Preparing for the
Future of Work project. It is complemented by a study of reskilling and job transition
pathways, also released in January 2018.
Over the course of 2018–2019, the project will engage in dialogue with key stakeholders
engaged in shaping the future of work, producefurther analysis and actionable insights to
help leaders respond to changes in the world of work, and collaborate closely with public
and private sector actors to introduce new initiatives for preparing for the future of work.