Into the future labor world

The irreversible nature of the past propels us to look forward. Over two years coexisting with the pandemic has already denatured the flow of global markets in unpredictable ways. This appropriately applies to the labor market as well, where workers and employers grappled to adjust to the sudden changes occurring worldwide. That’s the past of the labor market; the future, however, might need imminent effort. Even though the past two years proved the tentative nature of predictions, that doesn’t mean that looking through past trends does not provide useful insights for taking critical measures. We need “a peak not in the past, but a peak forward,” said Peter Von Rooij, the deputy regional director for Africa at the International Labor Organization (ILO), in a webinar about the future of labor hosted by the department of Economics of the AUC School of Business.

Past trends show how major changes in history alter the pool of skills that employers choose from. Some skills replace others in the list of prioritized skills in the labor market. According to Rooij, a post-pandemic era would favor “general competencies not only technical skills.” Many employers are increasingly finding that general competencies, such as adaptability, being a team player, the ability to analyze and ask the right questions, strong communication, entrepreneurial skills and being client-oriented, being aware of marketing, should be on the precipice of most needed skills. This reassessment of skills changes the labor market’s normal parameters of potential employees’ competencies and compatibility.
Knowledge management, Rooij believes, is an increasingly valued asset. “If you see companies like Coca Cola,” he says, “the value of their knowledge is more than all their factories and cars, etc. together.”

Aptly named, the ‘new normal’ we are experiencing has largely influenced work arrangements during the pandemic. Throughout history, major events that had a meaningful impact on the world’s economy, such as the Black Death (the most lethal pandemic in human history), the industrial revolution, and the Spanish flu were generally characterized by a swift change in the labor world, especially just like what Rooij mentioned: “innovation and entrepreneurship”. After disastrous hits, creativity finds a getaway to surge and replace one’s old life.

Similarly, today’s world is expected to continue to experience an alteration by leaning towards technology and replacing many human-executed processes with automated ones and relying on artificial intelligence. In the case of unsafe jobs or very repetitive ones, that is a good development, according to Rooij. The pandemic has already provided employers with a chance to substitute physical proximity with virtual transactions, which in many cases proved to be a real booster for productivity. However, Rooij believes that a fully automated labor market might not be in a generation’s time, and thus might not be relevant for current laborers or employers to worry about. He accentuates that automation is “too far ahead,” and it needs to be “put aside and [we’d rather look] at the foreseeable future.”

The pandemic has already forced a world experiment of working virtually, which proved successful in plenty of sectors. Flexible work arrangements are being created to accommodate younger generations who feel more confident dealing with technology. Rooij explains how the younger generation would have different opportunities, different work life patterns, and different life arrangements. For example, the concept of a career is in itself changing, to be more than one life-long job. As Rooij phrases it “a career is different steps that take you in the direction of your ultimate goal”.

There is also a growing trend of re-inventing how the work is done with more home-based contracts and flexibility in the number of work hours, with the emergence of three-day weekends.
“Seeing a more inclusive workforce is another development we’ve been seeing more of particularly in the last two years,” says Rooij. Employers want diverse teams, which creates opportunities for richness in ideas and more representation.

The future labor market might change in more ways than just the priorly mentioned aspects, but a ‘new normal’ is slowly yet steadily becoming the next epitome in the labor world, where the need for recovery and revival becomes so imminent it cloaks all other factors.


Habiba Tita ’25 is a student at the American University in Cairo intending to major in Economics.

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