It used to be that the most profound changes in business were best described in futuristic narratives of science fiction authors and film producers. Now, they are apparently detailed in short-term economic reports.

The World Economic Forum's annual Future of Jobs report does just that, painting a clear picture of what businesses leaders can expect to see by the year 2022. More importantly, it provides a cautionary outlook to anyone who believes jobs and businesses today are safe in the near future. 

From the start, the report indicates that half of all businesses say they expect to reduce their workforce by 2022 due to improvements in technology, with as many as 75 million jobs being replaced with automation, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). There are several major drivers to what the report calls this "Fourth Industrial Revolution," which include:

  • Increased global availability of high-speed mobile internet
  • Increased effectiveness and adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Continued adoption and application of data analytics in the decision-making process
  • Adoption of AI, augmented and virtual reality
  • Increased effectiveness and adoption of cloud technology

Of course, technology alone will not fuel this continued change. Just as important are a variety of important socio-economic trends that continue to influence business.

These include mainly the impact of increased access to and expansion of education in the middle classes and developing economies that technology provides. Also, the expanding understanding and adoption of green technologies, which will shape the future of many industries.

Other important statistics that business leaders need to consider include:

  • 85 percent of companies are expected to expand adoption of user and organizational data analytics in decision making process.
    Impact: Data analytics will be a profoundly important set of skills for anyone expecting to manage a business.

  • 37 to 23 percent of companies, depending on the industry, plan on investing in robotics and automation. 

  • In 2018, the mix of tasks performed by humans versus that performed by machines was 71 percent to 29 percent, respectively.
    By 2022, this mix is expected to be 58 percent and 42 percent, respectively.
    Impact: Displacement, reallocating and retraining of workforces and professions will completely disrupt the workforce mix.

The report is not entirely pessimistic for workers. While 50 percent of companies expect to reduce their workforce in favor of some form of automation, 38 percent expect to extend their workforce to include new productivity-enhancing roles. Moreover, almost 25 percent expect that automation will create an entirely new set of employees with unique and critical skills not currently being learned.

And while it is estimated that 75 million jobs may be displaced by technologies, as many as 133 million new positions could emerge.

Lastly, as this inevitable shift progresses, employees and employers will need to consider the skills needed to remain relevant and create sustainable business practices. According to the report, the types of future jobs that we can expect an increased demand for include:

  • Data Analysts and Scientists

  • Software and Applications Developers

  • Ecommerce and Social Media Specialists

  • Innovation Managers

  • AI and Machine Learning Specialists

  • Big Data Specialists

  • Process Automation Experts

  • Information Security Analysts

  • User Experience and Human-Machine Interaction Designers

  • Robotics Engineers

  • Blockchain Specialists

With all this said, it is worth pointing out that beyond any specific "skill of the future," maybe the most important skill that all employees and managers can adopt and sharpen is flexibility.

Flexibility is a very broad term and includes not only the ability to change but to manage change. This is not so much a skill but a mindset, one that will allow you to be the future problem solver that new businesses, technologies and industries ultimately need to succeed.