Work has changed drastically under the coronavirus pandemic, with millions of jobs eliminated and many more altered entirely.
Swathes of those roles may never return. But shifting demands and different ways of working have paved the way for new openings — and business leaders have given their predictions for where those opportunities may lie.
In a new post-pandemic workforce report, global consulting firm McKinsey & Company surveyed 800 business executives globally about where they plan to increase hiring following the pandemic. While respondents spanned a full range of industries and nine countries, including the U.S., Australia, China, India and the U.K., their priorities were the same: Health and safety; technology and agile working.
More than four in five (83%) employers said they planned to hire for more health and safety roles in the coming months, due to the outbreak. Top positions within that included on-site distancing or sanitization monitors (73%), and workforce health and safety operators (48%).
Of note, however, the report said under the pandemic, a growing number of those roles are being automated or conducted by robots.
Meanwhile, more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents said they expected to hire more technology and automation professionals. The most sought-after areas of expertise within that included automation and artificial intelligence (35%), digital customer experience (26%), internet of things (24%), and the cloud (19%).
The uptick reflects the rapid digitization of businesses over recent months. The report found that 85% of companies accelerated their digitization and 67% boosted automation and AI due to the crisis.
Elsewhere, almost half (45%) of executives said they anticipated increased hiring for digital learning and agile ways of working. Here, growing roles include those related to agile working (32%), digital learning and training (14%) and HR digital and remote hiring (13%).
The shifting jobs landscape will also likely pave the way for a more flexible or temporary workforce, according to the report, which found a surge in demand for contract or freelance workers.
Seven in 10 (70%) executives said they expect to employ more contractors and temporary workers on site within the next two years, as a result of the pandemic.
The demand was especially present in the hard-hit hospitality and health care sectors, as "uncertainty about how the pandemic will play out and when economies will regain momentum" keeps employers from making long-term hires, the report found.
That need was visibly lower for remote roles however, at just 20%, suggesting many of such roles are already being completed by the existing workforce.
The widespread adoption of remote work has also sparked a change in executives' perceptions. Globally, 15% of executives across said one-tenth of their workforce could work remotely two or more days a week going forward — almost double pre-pandemic levels (8%).
The number of willing employers varied from country to country, however, skewing higher in the U.K. and Germany (20%) and lower in China (4%). Meanwhile, extending remote work policies beyond two days a week was less popular among employers, appealing to just 7%.
Of course, remote work is more feasible for some sectors than others. Of note, it is largely companies in the technology and finance and insurance sectors, for instance, Twitter and Morgan Stanley, that have adopted long-term remote work or hybrid models.
The report found that more than 60% of workers in the U.S. economy cannot work remotely; "in less economically developed countries, the share of workers unable to work remotely is even higher."
However, it struck an optimistic note, saying that such incremental changes could usher in greater shifts in the workforce going forward.
"Innovation historically has driven changes beneficial to workers and humanity at large, and new workplace trends hold the promise of greater productivity that will fuel broader well-being," it said.
"The trick will be in reducing the risk of unequal outcomes, ensuring companies of all sizes can benefit and preparing workers for these shifts."
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