The trends accelerated by COVID-19
The mix of occupations may shift, with little job growth in low-wage occupations
The trends accelerated by COVID-19 may spur greater changes in the mix of jobs within economies than we estimated before the pandemic.
We find that a markedly different mix of occupations may emerge after the pandemic across the eight economies. Compared to our pre-COVID-19 estimates, we expect the largest negative impact of the pandemic to fall on workers in food service and customer sales and service roles, as well as less-skilled office support roles. Jobs in warehousing and transportation may increase as a result of the growth in e-commerce and the delivery economy, but those increases are unlikely to offset the disruption of many low-wage jobs. In the United States, for instance, customer service and food service jobs could fall by 4.3 million, while transportation jobs could grow by nearly 800,000. Demand for workers in the healthcare and STEM occupations may grow more than before the pandemic, reflecting increased attention to health as populations age and incomes rise as well as the growing need for people who can create, deploy, and maintain new technologies.
Before the pandemic, net job losses were concentrated in middle-wage occupations in manufacturing and some office work, reflecting automation, and low- and high-wage jobs continued to grow. Nearly all low-wage workers who lost jobs could move into other low-wage occupations—for instance, a data entry worker could move into retail or home healthcare. Because of the pandemic’s impact on low-wage jobs, we now estimate that almost all growth in labor demand will occur in high-wage jobs. Going forward, more than half of displaced low-wage workers may need to shift to occupations in higher wage brackets and requiring different skills to remain employed.
As many as 25 percent more workers may need to switch occupations than before the pandemic
Given the expected concentration of job growth in high-wage occupations and declines in low-wage occupations, the scale and nature of workforce transitions required in the years ahead will be challenging, according to our research. Across the eight focus countries, more than 100 million workers, or 1 in 16, will need to find a different occupation by 2030 in our post-COVID-19 scenario. This is 12 percent more than we estimated before the pandemic, and up to 25 percent more in advanced economies.
Before the pandemic, we estimated that just 6 percent of workers would need to find jobs in higher wage occupations. In our post-COVID-19 research, we find not only that a larger share of workers will likely need to transition out of the bottom two wage brackets but also that roughly half of them overall will need new, more advanced skills to move to occupations one or even two wage brackets higher.
The skill mix required among workers who need to shift occupations has changed. The share of time German workers spend using basic cognitive skills, for example, may shrink by 3.4 percentage points, while time spend using social and emotional skills will increase by 3.2 percentage points. In India, the share of total work hours expended using physical and manual skills will decline by 2.2 percentage points, while time devoted to technological skills will rise 3.3 percentage points. Workers in occupations in the lowest wage bracket use basic cognitive skills and physical and manual skills 68 percent of the time, while in the middle wage bracket, use of these skills occupies 48 percent of time spent. In the highest two brackets, those skills account for less than 20 percent of time spent. The most disadvantaged workers may have the biggest job transitions ahead, in part because of their disproportionate employment in the arenas most affected by COVID-19. In Europe and the United States, workers with less than a college degree, members of ethnic minority groups, and women are more likely to need to change occupations after COVID-19 than before. In the United States, people without a college degree are 1.3 times more likely to need to make transitions compared to those with a college degree, and Black and Hispanic workers are 1.1 times more likely to have to transition between occupations than white workers. In France, Germany, and Spain, the increase in job transitions required due to trends influenced by COVID-19 is 3.9 times higher for women than for men. Similarly, the need for occupational changes will hit younger workers more than older workers, and individuals not born in the European Union more than native-born workers.