Workforce of the Future: The Competing Forces Shaping 2030


Tuesday, August 15, 2017 5:00PM / PwC


We are living through a fundamental transformation in the way we work. Automation and ‘thinking machines’ are replacing human tasks and jobs, and changing the skills that organisations are looking for in their people. These momentous changes raise huge organisational, talent and HR challenges – at a time when business leaders are already wrestling with unprecedented risks, disruption and political and societal upheaval.

The pace of change is accelerating. Competition for the right talent is fierce. And ‘talent’ no longer means the same as ten years ago; many of the roles, skills and job titles of tomorrow are unknown to us today. How can organisations prepare for a future that few of us can define? How will your talent needs change? How can you attract, keep and motivate the people you need? And what does all this mean for HR?

This isn’t a time to sit back and wait for events to unfold. To be prepared for the future you have to understand it. In this report we look in detail at how the workplace might be shaped over the coming decade.

Our report draws on research begun in 2007 by a team from PwC and the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilisation at the Said Business School in Oxford and a specially commissioned survey of 10,000 people in China, India, Germany, the UK and the US. This has given us insights into how people think the workplace will evolve and how this will affect their employment prospects and future working lives. Our thanks to all those who kindly shared their perspectives. No exploration of the future of work will ever be conclusive. Indeed, one of the defining characteristics of our age is its ability to surprise and confound. This report develops ‘Four Worlds of Work’ for 2030 which will kickstart your thinking about the many possible scenarios that could develop, and how to best prepare for the future.

Remember that your starting point matters as much as your destination; the best response may mean radical change, or perhaps just a few steps from where you are today. Your resulting strategy will inevitably mean a combination of obvious, ‘no regrets’ actions and the occasional, educated leap of faith.

Carol Stubbings

Joint Global Leader, People and Organisation, PwC

Jon Williams

Joint Global Leader, People and Organisation, PwC

The forces shaping the future

The future of work asks us to consider the biggest questions of our age. What influence will the continuing march of technology, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) have on where we work and how we work? Will we need to work at all? What is our place in an automated world?

Many commentators focus on technology and the role that automation is predicted to have on jobs and the workplace. We believe the real story is far more complicated. This is less about technological innovation and more about the manner in which humans decide to use that technology. The shape that the workforce of the future takes will be the result of complex, changing and competing forces. Some of these forces are certain, but the speed at which they unfold can be hard to predict. Regulations and laws, the governments that impose them, broad trends in consumer, citizen and worker sentiment will all influence the transition toward an automated workplace. The outcome of this battle will determine the future of work in 2030.

When so many complex forces are at play, linear predictions are too simplistic. Businesses, governments and individuals need to be prepared for a number of possible, even seemingly unlikely, outcomes.


The megatrends are the tremendous forces reshaping society and with it, the world of work: the economic shifts that are redistributing power, wealth, competition and opportunity around the globe; the disruptive innovations, radical thinking, new business models and resource scarcity that are impacting every sector. Businesses need a clear and meaningful purpose and mandate to attract and retain employees, customers and partners in the decade ahead.

The megatrends identified by PwC form the foundation for all our scenarios. How humans respond to the challenges and opportunities which the megatrends bring will determine the worlds in which the future of work plays out.

How digital and artificial intelligence are changing work

The potential for digital platforms and AI to underpin and grow the world of work is unbounded. They already play an essential role in the development of all Four Worlds of Work, matching skills to employer, capital to investor and consumer to supplier.

This platform layer brings a digital value chain and commoditisation and automation of the back office – but comes with warnings. While it can create a thriving marketplace, it can grow to take over the entire economic system. And with platform pervasiveness comes vulnerability to cyber-attacks or wide-scale manipulation.

Closely linked to digital is data. How governments, organisations and individuals decide to share and use it is key to all our worlds – even the most human-centric. Finally AI: the digital assistants, chatbots, and machine learning, that understand, learn, and then act based on that information.

It’s useful to think of three levels of AI:

Assisted intelligence
, widely available today, improves what people and organisations are already doing. A simple example, prevalent in cars today, is the GPS navigation programme that offers directions to drivers and adjusts to road conditions.

Augmented intelligence
, emerging today, helps people and organisations to do things they couldn’t otherwise do. For example, car ride-sharing businesses couldn’t exist with the combination of programmes that organise the service.

Autonomous intelligence
, being developed for the future, establishes machines that act on their own. An example of this will be self-driving vehicles, when they come into widespread use.

Some optimists believe AI could create a world where human abilities are amplified as machines help mankind process, analyse, and evaluate the abundance of data that creates today’s world, allowing humans to spend more time engaged in high-level thinking, creativity, and decision-making.

Download the Full Report here

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