The future of work: what companies need to know today

The labour market is already influencing the future of work. The Job Wizards explain the latest trends and reveal challenges managers need to know about.

7 minutes 7 minutes
Table of Contents
Digitisation, globalisation and demographic change are changing the labour market and creating challenges for companies. At the same time, however, the future of work offers opportunities. The Job Wizards explain to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) how the world of work is developing and what they need to be aware of.

The future of work is already ubiquitous today. Whether it is the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Robert Bosch Foundation or international corporate consultancies from Ernst & Young and Roland Berger to PricewaterhouseCoopers – they are all trying to understand how we will work in future. They all want to be as well prepared as possible and to have a plan for when the future becomes the present.

Demographic change: staff are also getting older

One key factor that will change the world of work in future is demographics. Europe is getting older – and so are the citizens in work. By 2030, the young population and number of people in middle age will both shrink considerably. The proportion of older people, on the other hand, will increase significantly. The consequence: a drastic reduction in workers aged 15 to 54 and increased competition for young members of staff.

At the same time, a trend that researchers have been observing for some time is becoming increasingly noticeable: in contrast to even the 20th century, more and more women are working. In future, that will mean that an increasing number of women in all age groups will pursue a career. Companies need to be prepared for that opportunity too. Among men, the background of demographic change means that only the group of employees who have celebrated at least 55 birthdays is increasing in number.

A unique selling point: higher-quality products and services

Advancing globalisation will also influence work in the future. It is breaking up established patterns of the global economy. In this context, economic centres that were based in Europe or the USA for decades are increasingly moving to Asia. And it will also be true in future that companies will produce even more than now in countries where labour costs are significantly lower.

Correspondingly, jobs that require minimal qualifications and skills are being created abroad, in contrast to in Germany and the rest of Europe, where more and more people with a good level of training and education are in employment. With that level of skills and training, it is almost inevitable that higher-quality products and services are provided.

But globalisation is not only shaking up job profiles and focal points of production. It is also making competition ever more intense. The consequence: a conveyor belt of technical innovations and increasing productivity. Only companies that can keep up with that have an opportunity for a successful future.

Digitisation creates new jobs

In addition to globalisation, digitisation is also a major factor for the future of work. First things first: the fear of the power of machines is not justified. Although many jobs will be lost through automation and other technologies, the creation of new careers will balance out the disappearance of other positions. The graphic below shows how that ratio will develop in Germany between now and 2035. The picture in the whole of Europe will look similar.

Digitisation creates more opportunities for skilled specialists and highly qualified staff in particular. In addition, it generates completely new professional branches: the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) assumes that 65% of today’s children will do jobs in future that currently do not even exist.

Above all, companies will have increased demand for jobs involving research, communication, creativity, decision-making and coordination.

More and more people will work in corporate services, in the consulting, legal, administrative, engineering and IT sectors. Financial services providers and the healthcare and social services sectors are growing and will be advertising more positions in future. And the creative and communications industry is also experiencing an employment boom, especially in advertising and marketing.

Infographic how jobs get lost and gain in the future

Infographic how jobs get lost and gain in the future

Job descriptions for dinosaurs

Today, there are already new professional categories that do not yet have qualifications, because no relevant degrees exist. But there are job profiles with a bright future that many companies will employ sooner or later. Here is a selection:

  • E-commerce manager
  • UX designer
  • Data scientist
  • Supply chain manager
  • Mobile developer
  • Cybersecurity expert
  • Content creator
  • IT trainer
  • App developer
  • SEO specialist

Other job groups will adapt and coexist with future technologies, or disappear completely.

In particular, workers in traditional processing industries, e.g. paper and printing, trade and transportation, and public administration will have to reorient themselves. Examples are:

  • Wholesale and retail salespeople
  • Office clerks
  • Telephone operators
  • Purchasers
  • Drivers
  • Bank clerks
  • Catering and restaurant staff
  • Warehouse staff
  • Mechanics
  • Transport workers

In future, their tasks will be performed by robots, artificial intelligence (AI) or refined software. In particular, companies that always produce using the same workflows make use of automation.

In general, digitisation and demographics enrich the future of work: because there will be around 3.5 million fewer employees in the long term, new inventions and technologies can replace – or supplement – the staff who are lacking. As machines support workers in physically difficult activities, for example in construction and healthcare, both trends should tend to alleviate specialist staff bottlenecks.

The right way for companies to react to the transformation

SMEs are seen as the cornerstone of the German economy. In order to be well prepared for future challenges, small and medium-sized businesses in particular should make themselves even more familiar with digital innovations. They need digital know-how in order to be able to continue to fulfil customer desires. Hiring the required experts is an unavoidable necessity. Companies should not underestimate the time necessary for this adjustment.

The role of the employer also needs to be reconsidered, as it is continuously and fundamentally changing. In future, they will primarily look for and hire staff who bring the human characteristics that automation and artificial intelligence cannot replace. Technology does not replace people, it simply supports them in more and more areas.

Employees are becoming more demanding

Companies also have to adjust to new wishes and expectations from the workforce. The world of ideas in the labour market of the future will be different.

When choosing a position, young people primarily focus on the meaningfulness of the activity. At the same time, loyalty to employers is decreasing and ‘job hopping’ is becoming more common in future. An appreciative management style is therefore very important for workforce retention. Managers convince their colleagues to stay with the company by always supporting their personal skills and strengths. Furthermore, lifelong learning is a priority for many employees.

Companies should guarantee permanent access to good training and further education for themselves and the workforce.

At the management level, not only management style, but also future methods of work need to be reconsidered and designed more flexibly for employees. Flexible project organisation can replace rigid and entrenched workflows. In particular, those at the start of their careers would prefer to decide for themselves where and when they work and find new and inspiring workplaces.

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