The world is going through a period of economic uncertainty, with artificial intelligence (AI) advancing and the green transition now imperative – all of which are driving big changes in the future of jobs.

This week, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) Growth Summit brought together more than 400 leaders in Geneva to deepen understanding of the new context for growth and to chart a future of growth that is resilient, sustainable and inclusive.

Experts are divided about the prospects of a recession in 2023, according to the Chief Economists Outlook, with 45% expecting a recession and an equal number expecting to avoid one.

Trends that are expected to shape growth most profoundly in the coming year include geo-economics and a changing geography of supply chains, rapid advancement and adoption of technology – including generative AI – and stronger industrial policy, especially measures to enable greener growth and the energy transition.

“Economic growth is necessary, but it’s not an end in itself. The key question is, what kind of growth do we want? The answer is, it must be resilient, equitable and sustainable growth,” says Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF.

The localisation and diversification of supply chains is expected to create a new geography of growth, new jobs and opportunities for small- and medium-sized enterprises and new entrants.

However, the global movement of people and exchange of goods, services, technology and ideas remains fundamental to growth and prosperity for developing economies, addressing inequality, expanding living standards for all and addressing the climate crisis.

“Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere,” says Gilbert Houngbo, director-general of the International Labour Organisation.

“We have gone through a big wave of globalization and we have left too many people behind. If you read the story of industrial towns all over the world, people were left behind,” says Sander van ‘t Noordende, CEO and chair of the executive board of Randstad “It’s the right thing to make sure that that doesn’t happen again, and it is needed because we need all hands on deck.”

Nearly a quarter of all jobs – 23% – are also expected to be disrupted over the next four years, according to the Future of Jobs Report released ahead of the summit.

Sustainability and green investments are expected to be a net job creator while tepid economic growth, supply shortages and high inflation are seen as the biggest risks to job growth.

The impact of artificial intelligence was widely debated, with polarised views on its potential for fully displacing lower-skilled, white-collar work or augmenting workers’ productivity in various professions with faster access to knowledge.

Imperative for inclusive, resilient and sustainable growth

Leaders from business, government, unions, academia and civil society agreed that a renewed push for growth is needed to raise living standards across the world. But they also cautioned against focusing solely on GDP growth, calling for greater integration of other urgent priorities including tackling the climate crisis, reducing inequality, building societal resilience and managing the disruptive power of new technologies.

“My hope is that we can find big opportunities from the exploration of alternative drivers of growth, such as intra regionalisation, that have been untapped. This is how we keep global growth going,” says Razia Khan, head of research and chief economist: Africa and Middle East at Standard Chartered Bank.

“There is enormous inequality in productivity,” says Ricardo Hausmann, founder and director of the Growth Lab at Harvard University. “People in different locations are baking pies of radically different sizes. The process of development is a process of transformation of the way we do things, the way production is organised so that the whole can be more productive.”

Mmusi Kgafela, minister of trade and industry in Botswana, comments: “The pursuit of green technology is in the forefront of our minds. But it has to be a just transition.”

Rania Al-Mashat, minister of international cooperation in Egypt, emphasises the need for financing in the developing world. “For just transitions to happen, we need just financing.”

A key element in the new agenda for growth is the need for significant investment in skills in both advanced and emerging economies to build competitiveness and to prepare workers for the jobs of the future.

“AI won’t take your job – it’s someone using AI who will take your job,” says Richard Baldwin, professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.

“We know the jobs that we’ll lose, the jobs that we need and someway we have to make it work,” says Claudia Azevedo, CEO of SONAE, as part of a discussion on the importance of closing the skills gap through upskilling and reskilling.

“We are nowhere near where we need to be to meet the scale and the speed of the demand that is coming our way for green skills. We need to start investing now – and heavily – to put the reskilling and upskilling programmes in place needed to meet the climate challenge,” adds Sue Duke, head of global public policy at LinkedIn.

“When you look at care jobs – both childcare and elderly care – we still see elevated demand compared to pre-pandemic levels,” says Svenja Gudell, chief economist of Indeed.

Leaders also emphasise the importance of diversity and inclusion as a channel to both promote equity and to accelerate growth and innovation.

“Diversity of ideas is essential,” says Maria Leptin, president of the European Research Council. “You don’t stew in your own juice. If you do, you are not going to discover anything new.”

Zubaida Bai, president and CEO of Grameen Foundation, adds: “Building resilience requires encouraging women and talking about their strengths. Investing in the power of these women is actually what’s going to help build a resilient economy.”

An action agenda for jobs, trade, skills and equity

Over 20 high-impact initiatives were advanced at the summit, with a focus on educating, reskilling and upskilling workers for the future of jobs. These include:

* A new trade and labour programme was launched to improve worker standards and human rights in global supply chains. The programme, developed with the Graduate Institute’s Thinking Ahead on Societal Change Platform in Geneva, brings together business leaders, experts, human rights, trade and labour leaders.

* The government of Morocco established the first Jobs Accelerator, part of a network of more than 30 country accelerators working with the World Economic Forum to advance a new economy and society. Jobs Accelerators will bring public and private sectors together to future-proof labour markets, create good-quality employment opportunities and help people transition in the jobs of tomorrow. As a member of the Jobs Consortium, the government of Guatemala also intends to collaborate with the Forum to establish a Jobs Accelerator through the Ministry of Economy.

* Members of the Good Work Alliance – jointly employing 2,5-million workers – published a toolkit and set new targets to promote fairness on wages and technology, provide flexibility and protection, drive health, inclusion and development opportunities for its employees.

* A new Workforce Health Initiative was launched, aiming to establish a community of purpose to improve employee health and promote societal resilience through a global and scalable platform that synthesizes and promotes proven holistic evidence-based solutions. A global community of chief health and medical officers will work to establish public-private partnerships and scale concrete actions companies can take to advance health in the workplace.

* UNHCR and Ingka joined as co-chairs of the Refugee Employment Alliance, which aims to employ 14 000 refugees by the end of 2023.

* The Global Future Council on Job Creation will work to identify pathways to job creation, including green, tech and social investments. A briefing paper was released to prepare the work of the council.

* Nigeria and Mongolia joined the Reskilling Revolution, establishing skills and education accelerators. Launched in 2020, the Reskilling Revolution has already reached 350-million people through the initiatives of its partners and members to provide better education and reskilling opportunities. The government of the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement to globally scale up the Reskilling Revolution in its next stage of work during 2023-2025 to reach 600-million people.

* In collaboration with PwC, the Forum launched a new framework to develop a skills-based labour market and help 100-million have better jobs and economic opportunities.

* launched a new coalition of education and technology leaders – TeachAI – in collaboration with the WEF that aims to provide much-needed global guidance on integrating AI effectively in global primary and secondary education to promote future-ready skills.

* The government of Kenya launched a gender parity accelerator, joining a network of 14 countries that are working to advance women’s economic participation and leadership, ensure pay equity and prepare women for the future of work.

* The WEF will launch a global gender parity sprint, bringing together a multistakeholder coalition to accelerate economic gender parity and parity in leadership by 2030.

* A Women’s Health in the Workplace coalition was launched that aims to understand and identify actions that employers can take to provide better support and care for women in the workplace.

* The forum launched its 2023-2024 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lighthouses Programme, with a call for companies to submit impactful initiatives to inspire global business action on DEI.

* Members of the Partnering for Racial Justice in Business Initiative kicked-off a series of dialogues to implement racial and ethnic equity, building on the initiative’s Global Racial and Ethnic Equity Framework and previous research.

* The Zero Health Gaps Pledge announced that about 63 organisations have now pledged to advance health equity through their core operations, investments and strategies.