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Post COVID-19 : The Future of Work

The pandemic has accelerated existing trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation, with up to 25 percent more workers than previously estimated potentially needing to switch occupations.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted labor markets globally during 2020. The short-term consequences were sudden and often severe: Millions of people were furloughed or lost jobs, and others rapidly adjusted to working from home as offices closed. Many other workers were deemed essential and continued to work in hospitals and grocery stores, on garbage trucks and in warehouses, yet under new protocols to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Our research suggests that the disruptions to work sparked by COVID‑19 will be larger than we had estimated in our pre-pandemic research, especially for the lowest-paid, least educated, and most vulnerable workers. We estimate that more than 100 million workers in the eight countries we studied may need to switch occupations, a 12 percent increase compared to before the pandemic overall and a rise of as much as 25 percent in advanced economies. These workers will face even greater gaps in skill requirements.

Across countries, we find that job growth may concentrate more in high-wage jobs while middle- and low-wage jobs decline. During the pandemic, policy makers, companies, and workers adapted to new ways of work more quickly than previously thought possible, out of sheer necessity. In the longer term, similarly agile and collaborative responses could lead to higher productivity growth and create career paths with upward mobility for workers.

Businesses could respond by reimagining where and how work is done and finding new ways to hire, train, and redeploy workers with a focus on in-demand tasks rather than whole jobs. Policy makers could consider expanding digital infrastructure and enabling more labor market flexibility, for instance by removing barriers to worker mobility, equipping workers facing job transitions, and supporting workers in the gig economy.

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