Jan 18, 2016 | By Kira
A recent report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) has predicted that the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterized by the rise of 3D printing and additive manufacturing, robotics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, machine learning and biotechnology, will lead to over five million human jobs being eliminated within the next four years across 15 of the world’s most powerful countries, with office and admin roles—primarily held by women—set to be hit the hardest.
Klaus Schwab, founder of the WEF
The report, titled The Future of Jobs, was prepared by WEF founder Klaus Schwab and managing board member Richard Samans ahead of the WEF’s annual meeting being held in Davos, Switzerland this week. The comprehensive 167-page document calls for “urgent and targeted action today” on behalf of government and private industries in order to ensure that workers will receive the ‘futureproof’ training they need to continue sustaining strong global economies.
Writing about the latest 3D printing news, we often tend to focus on the inherent benefits that the technology has for various manufacturing industries: the ability to speed up prototype and iteration processes, reduce material waste, cut production times by half or more, all while significantly reducing costs across the board. The word ‘disruption’ is thrown around a lot, often with a positive connotation—as in, how 3D printing will ‘disrupt’ traditional manufacturing processes, bringing jobs back to local communities, eliminating waste and excess by creating better, stronger, and safer products entirely on-demand.
However, there is a dark side to all this ‘disruption’. Robots, automated machines such as 3D printers, and advanced computer algorithms will lead to redundancy, automation and disintermediation, eliminating the need for an entire range of human tasks, from filing paperwork to physically assembling complex parts.
In total, the WEF’s report predicts that 7.1 million jobs will be lost to machines by the year 2020. Partially offsetting this devastating number is the counter-fact that roughly 2.1 million new jobs are expected to be created, primarily in the areas of computing, mathematics, architecture and engineering. The findings of the report, taken from a survey of 15 economies covering about 65 percent of the world’s total workforce, including Austrialia, Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, the UK and the US.
Administrative jobs and office jobs will account for two-thirds of these losses, as Big Data systems and smart machines are increasingly able to take over routine tasks. This is expected to disproportionately affect women, due to their low-participation in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics—the primary ‘job families’ that are expected to grow in the coming years. The report predicts that women will lose five jobs for every job gained, while men will lose only three jobs for every one gained.
3D printing technology in particular holds as much promise as it does threat within certain distinct industries. One the one hand, the report states that the expected global decline in total Manufacturing and Production roles is driven by labor-substituting technologies such as additive manufacturing and 3D printing—a seemingly obvious fact, given that industrial 3D printers can manufacturing high-quality parts significantly faster and at reduced cost compared to more labor intensive manufacturing methods such as machine cutting or casting.
Yet at the same time, the report indicates that “cautious optimism is warranted due to increased manufacturing demand for advanced materials”—indeed, we have seen several huge advancements in 3D printing metal powders, conductive filaments, and other high-performing materials, as the 3D printing materials market is already on track to overtake the 3D printer market by 2023.
Furthermore, “3D printing, resource-efficient sustainable production and robotics are all seen as strong drivers of employment growth in the Architecture and Engineering job family, in light of a continued and fast-growing need for skilled technicians and specialists to create and manage advanced and automated production systems. This is expected to lead to a transformation of manufacturing into a highly sophisticated sector where high-skilled engineers are in strong demand to make the industrial Internet of Things a reality.”
Each previous Industrial Revolution (including steam engines, followed by electricity and assembly lines, and then electronics and robotics) has come with its share of ‘disruptive’ threats and promises; however, industrial manufacturers have always managed to pull through. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is no exception.
“To prevent a worst-case scenario—technological change accompanied by talent shortages, mass unemployment and growing inequality—reskilling and upskilling of today’s workers will be critical. While much has been said about the need for reform in basic education, it is simply not possible to weather the current technological revolution by waiting for the next generation’s workforce to become better prepared,” wrote the WEF.
“Instead it is critical that business take an active role in supporting their current workforces through re-training, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning and that governments create the enabling environment, rapidly and creatively to assist these efforts.”
Though far-reaching, the proposed strategies include investing in reskilling current employees, supporting mobility and job rotation, attracting female and foreign talent at all levels, and offering apprenticeships to ensure a “futureproofed” workforce starting immediately, not in some distant, already-too-late-future. In particular, the report found that many business leaders are increasingly recognizing that tackling barriers to equality—especially the above-mentioned gender gap—can unlock “new opportunities for growth”, and are therefore encouraging women to participate in STEM-related fields.
“The current technological revolution need not become a race between humans and machines but rather an opportunity for work to truly become a channel through which people recognize their full potential. To ensure that we achieve this vision, we must become more specific and much faster in understanding the changes underway and cognizant of our collective responsibility to lead our businesses and communities through this transformative moment."
The WEF has made the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” the official theme of the 2016 Davos meeting, which runs from January 20 to 23rd. Though the prospect of losing more than 5 million jobs is both daunting and distressing, the goal of the report is not to frighten us, but to make us aware of the changes we can enact starting right now. 3D printing and other advanced manufacturing technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are here to stay—and with the urgent and targeted action, our jobs will be, too.
Posted in 3D Printing Technology
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Ernest wrote at 2/16/2016 7:51:44 PM:
Five million?! So little?! Why not three quartz the worlds jobs?!
so_many_layers wrote at 1/19/2016 1:54:21 AM:
Should read "fewer jobs", not "less jobs" since jobs are countable: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/less-or-fewer