Trends and Predictions 2020: Jobs Sustainability

Stephen DeAngelis

January 28, 2020

The eighteenth-century philosopher François-Marie Arouet, better known by his nom de plume Voltaire, once wrote, “Work saves us from three great evils: boredom, vice, and need.” As in times past, there are concerns about technology eliminating jobs resulting in mass unemployment leading to economic and social chaos. Cadie Thompson (@CadieThompson), the emerging tech editor at Business Insider, asserts, “The labor market is changing faster than you might realize.”[1] These changes are being driven by advances in technology, shifting demographics, and a volatile geopolitical landscape. No one can predict with any certainty what the job market will look like a decade or two from now. Why? Ira Wolfe (@HireAuthority) reports that a study by the U.S. Department of Labor concluded, “65 percent of today’s schoolchildren will eventually be employed in jobs that have yet to be created.”[2] Other pundits have come to that same conclusion. The best we can do is look into the short-term future and recent past to make some educated guesses.


Job trends


Trend 1. Jobs associated with data remain in demand. We live in the data-driven Digital Age. Thompson notes, “Data analysts will become increasingly more important in all industries by 2020 … because they will need help making sense of all of the data generated by technological disruptions.” In addition to data analysts and data scientists, Thompson insists computer and mathematical occupations will grow. “These occupations include computer programmers, software developers, information security analysts, and more.”


Trend 2. Tech jobs create a stronger economy. According to analysts at PayScale, “A single tech worker is estimated to support 5.7 additional jobs throughout the economy via direct and indirect multiplier effects. Tech workers create a higher demand for more goods than the average American (such as bigger homes, eating out more, more Uber trips, etc.) due to their increased purchasing power. These spending habits create a demand for jobs in other industries.”[3] They go on to note, “The proliferation of tech workers into industries outside of the tech sector is a major contributor to continued job growth nationwide.”


Trend 3. Economic slowdown likely. Signs of a global economic downturn having been growing. PayScale analysts write, “It’s unlikely that manufacturing jobs will rebound anytime soon given outsourcing, automation and the extremely volatile nature of U.S. trade talks with China and the imposition of punitive tariffs across a wide variety of goods from around the world. While America has yet to be affected in terms of GDP growth, global growth has started to stall in 2019 and the effect of a trade war for the past year and a half will continue to damage the U.S. manufacturing sector and shake business confidence.”


Trend 4. Technology will continue to change the job outlook. Companies will continue to automate and find new ways to use cognitive technologies. Katy Medium (@MediumKaty) writes, “Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are two technologies that are going to change industries. These will form the jobs in demand in the future. Robotics taking a bigger role in industry will mean certain jobs going away. Manual and dangerous tasks will be replaced by robots. Manual laborers will become more skilled to stay valuable. Artificial intelligence will remove the need for many repetitive tasks. Workers will have access to more tools and data than ever before. The career paths that thrive will be those that use data like analysts and developers.” Jack Kelly (@wecruitr_io), CEO of WeCruitr, insists technology is ushering in a darker future. He writes, “Artificial intelligence, robotics and technology will slowly and steadily displace millions of workers. It will happen industry by industry and you won’t even know what’s happening until it comes for your job.”[5]


Job predictions


Prediction 1. The Gig economy will change the way people work. Although some people see the gig economy faltering, others see a confluence of trends making it flourish. C W Headley writes, “On balance, older Americans don’t need a full-time ride to pillow themselves financially. On this, Boomers and Gen Z are on the same page, which is why ‘gig economy’ has become such a favored buzz word. Whether you’re juggling a moonlighting job alongside your career, or working sporadically for companies looking to scale-up staff during peak seasons, gig work is a great way for Americans to keep earning without making a serious commitment.”[6] Kelly adds, “As the gig economy becomes mainstream, corporations will realize that there is little need to maintain expensive corporate offices, pay benefits and bear the burden of full-time permanent employees. Instead, companies can offer project work for people when they are needed. These contractors can work from home, won’t receive benefits and will save money for the corporations.”


Prediction 2. Many workers will have to get retrained and reskilled to remain employable. Lauren Weber (@laurenweberWSJ) writes, “In our digital age, layoffs are a certainty, like death and taxes.”[7] She reports, “By 2030, up to 30% of all work activities globally could be automated using current technologies, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Some 16 million to 54 million U.S. workers will need to switch occupations in that time.” She believes the negative effects of layoffs due to automation can be mitigated if workers are provided training before they are let go. She explains, “Unemployment might not automatically follow if employers, educators, workers and policy makers can train people whose jobs are eliminated for new careers in expanding occupations.” She calls this practice “outskilling.” Kelly asserts, “To succeed in the near future, it would be helpful to have a background in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and coding. If you don’t have these skills, try to find a job or profession that is hard to be replaced by technology. Avoid jobs that could easily be taught to someone else who the company could pay a lower salary to or easily relocated to another country.”


Prediction 3. Cybersecurity experts will be in high demand. Organizations of every kind are being attacked (i.e., hacked) on a daily basis. As a result, cybersecurity experts are required in every economic sector. Allana Akhtar (@allanaakh) reports, “Cybersecurity specialists have seen 30% annual growth in demand in the past five years.”[8] A related job also remaining in demand will be site reliability engineers. According to Akhtar, they have seen a 34% annual growth in demand in the past five years.


Prediction 4. Technology will create more jobs than it eliminates. Although some pundits think the current industrial revolution (aka Industry 4.0) will be different than past revolutions, many experts predict past patterns of job creation will continue. Cecilia Amador (@ceci_amadort) writes, “Previous industrial revolutions destroyed many jobs, but they also created more jobs. This will happen again; in fact it’s already happening.”[9] Noah Smith (@Noahpinion) adds, “The notion that rapid automation is taking jobs in aggregate in the here and now just doesn’t fit the data.”[10] He explains, “First, employment is near all-time highs based on the share of prime-age people with jobs. Then there’s the fact that median weekly earnings of full-time employees have risen more during the past four years than at any time since the late 1990s. … Second, there’s the experience of other countries. Just looking at one kind of automation, industrial robots, it’s clear that the countries that do more automation experience less hollowing-out of their manufacturing industries. Third, companies that invest more in information technology actually added workers faster between 1990 and 2007, suggesting IT complements humans rather than replaces them.”


Concluding thoughts


Molly Kinder (@MollyKinder), a fellow at the Brookings Institution, observes, “There is a heated debate going on in America right now about what the future of work will look like.”[11] She believes the workers voice is missing from the debate. As the debate about the future of work continues, Kinder believes policy reforms will be necessary to:


  • Improve the present reality — and future — of work for low-wage workers, and strengthen their voice and power in the workplace;
  • Activate and develop the often-untapped talent of workers through a more user-friendly and equitable talent development ecosystem;
  • Better support workers whose jobs are vulnerable to change, including low-wage workers, Black and Latino or Hispanic workers, women, younger and older workers, and middle-class workers who risk displacement;
  • Strengthen the quality of the jobs of the future, especially on dimensions that workers value most;
  • Better define what good and bad automation looks like from the perspective of workers, and explore best practices for employer engagement of workers in decisions about the design of technology; and
  • Reimagine the safety net to create new opportunities for enhanced economic stability that enable workers to weather disruptions and change.


I agree with Voltaire that people need work. We need a persistent and coordinated effort to ensure a future where work is available for everyone who wants and needs a job.


[1] Cadie Thompson, “8 jobs every company will be hiring for by 2020,” World Economic Forum, 8 January 2016.
[2] Ira Wolfe, “65 Percent of Today’s Students Will Be Employed in Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet,” Success Performance Solutions, 26 August 2013.
[3] Staff, “Economic Trends: Reflections on 2019, Predictions for 2020,” PayScale, 17 December 2019.
[4] Katy Medium, “Best Jobs of the Future: 2020 to 2050,” ToughNickel, 11 December 2019.
[5] Jack Kelly, “Dire Predictions For The Job Market In 2020,” Forbes, 16 December 2019.
[6] C W Headley, “5 workforce predictions for 2020,” Ladders, 22 November 2019.
[7] Lauren Weber, “A Counterintuitive Fix for Robot-driven Unemployment,” The Wall Street Journal, 6 January 2020.
[8] Allana Akhtar, “15 jobs no one knew about in 2010 that everyone will want in 2020,” Business Insider, 30 December 2019.
[9] Cecilia Amador, “Future of Work: Will the Concept of a ‘Job’ be Destroyed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution?Allwork, 27 December 2019.
[10] Noah Smith, “Robots replacing human workers isn’t supported by data,” Information Management, 22 November 2019.
[11] Molly Kinder, “Putting the worker in the future of work,” The Brookings Institution, 19 November 2019.