A new report from McKinsey and Company says outdoor workers in the construction sector will be largely unaffected as the global workforce undergoes dramatic shifts in the next decade accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report, titled The Future of Work after COVID-19, forecasts 100,000 workers in eight countries studied will be forced to find new jobs between now and 2030, many having to jump two or three rungs of skills. The pace of change in the global workforce has been quickened by the pandemic, McKinsey says, with jobs in work arenas with higher levels of proximity likely to see greater transformation after the pandemic.
A panel of McKinsey analysts from around the world presented the findings during a webinar held in February. The eight economies studied were China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The report, based on global surveys, found COVID-19 accelerated three trends that are likely to persist: remote work and virtual interactions; e-commerce and digital transactions; and the shift to automation and AI. The disruptions to work sparked by COVID-19 will be larger than McKinsey had estimated in its pre-pandemic research, with the lowest-paid, least educated and most vulnerable workers most affected.
Mumbai-based panellist Anu Madgavkar suggested during a question and answer session that construction executives face major challenges as they guide their diverse workforces, which include indoor workers such as administrators, tech staff, economists, architects and engineers as well as trades employed on outdoor jobsites, through the next 10 years.
“I think for companies from the sector, it’s going to be very important to granularly assess the work environment, the potential for remote work and some of these other trends in terms of digitization of the whole value chain. What parts of it are more prone to remote versus more prone to digital versus more prone to the traditional, in-person face to face,” said Madgavkar.
Of the 100 million workers in the eight countries who may need to switch occupations, the U.S. will be the most disrupted.
The number of office support workers in the U.S. could decline 17 per cent between 2018 and 2030, with mechanical installation and repair jobs falling by two per cent.
Meanwhile STEM jobs could advance by 24 per cent and jobs in the health sector could pick up by 32 to 36 per cent.
McKinsey said the physical dimension of work is a new factor shaping the future of the work, dictated by health and safety considerations. The analysis shows that the pandemic’s short- and long-term impact is concentrated in four work arenas with high levels of proximity: leisure and travel venues employing more than 60 million in the eight countries, on-site customer service including retail and hospitality (150 million), computer-based office work (300 million) and production and warehousing (more than 350 million).
In less dense work areas such as outdoor production sites, the pandemic’s effects should have little lasting effect. This sector includes construction sites, farms and residential and commercial grounds.
“Work here requires low proximity and few interactions with others, and it takes place fully outdoors,” the report states. “Given these characteristics, COVID-19 had a limited impact on work in this work arena.”
Washington-based panellist Susan Lund noted 20 to 25 per cent of the workforce in advanced economies could work from home three to five days a week by 2030.
“It’s still a minority of people and it’s mainly people in an office-based setting,” she said. “If we attained that level, that would be four times as many people working from home today, and that would have profound impacts on the need for office space as well as demand for things like lunches and cafes and stores in downtown areas.”
Another implication of work from home, Lund said, is that there could be movement out of the highest-cost city centres into suburbs and smaller towns.
These shifts will require additional study by construction stakeholders, Madgavkar said.
“There is certainly the angle around the shifting demand pattern itself for the construction industry and where the jobs of the future of the industry will really move to from a geographic perspective,” she said. “One of the big directional trends and questions that this report raises is the geographical footprint of built-up spaces, workspaces and residential spaces. Is that really going to shift in a very sustainable and durable way?”
McKinsey suggests businesses should reimagine where and how work is done and find new ways to hire, train and deploy workers with a focus on in-demand skills rather than traditional job titles. And policy-makers must look to enable more labour market flexibility by removing barriers to worker mobility and upskilling workers facing job transitions.
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