Over the next 20 years, a cocktail of technological innovation and globalisation will see the labour market become increasingly “hour-glass” shaped, with semi-skilled workers squeezed out of an automated workplace, reports Creating Jobs In A Global Economy, 2011–2030.

The report, compiled by specialist recruiter Hays in partnership with economic forecaster Oxford Economics, states that technological change is forcing out the middle group of semi-skilled workers, whose jobs can be outsourced.

During the last 20 years, jobs that involved repeated, routine actions have been replaced by automated machines and robots. Occupations where computers or machines can perform relatively intricate processes that were typically done by people, such as fitting a car engine, will continue to feel the impact of this trend. Routine service-sector jobs, such as bookkeeping, data processing and call centre operation, are also under threat from automation.

On the other hand, non-routine jobs have generally become more productive and valuable with the use of new technology. The same can be said of occupations where face-to-face contact cannot be replaced with a machine.

Also, demand for labour in routine low-skilled occupations — cooking, building or driving — that machines cannot replace, has increased. This means that the middle group of semi-skilled workers will get squeezed out in this “hourglass” phenomenon as employment rises at the top and bottom ends of the skills ladder.

As a result, Hays encourages those not yet in the labour force to consider careers in industries where technology improvements will increase productivity, not where computers or machines could ultimately replace part or all of the work.

New workers should consider careers in sectors where developed nations have an advantage, such as pharmaceuticals and business services, or careers that involve face-to-face contact, such as health care and education.

Those already in the workforce should take on projects, roles or training that will equip them with relevant skills for future industries and labour trends. Be prepared to be flexible and re-skill to address the rapidly changing environment. Look at the high-skill sectors and focus on education or training in these areas.

New entrants and those looking for a career change are advised to focus on four key sectors that will experience the biggest demand for skills in 2030:

1. Financial services

Forecasts indicate that most of the growth in demand for financial sector workers will occur in countries where the sector is already large. Singapore ranks 12th on the list of countries forecast to experience the largest growth in financial services output between last year and 2030 and thus demand for skilled staff in this area will remain strong.

2. Health care

The increasing number of elderly people will raise the demand for health-care professionals in many countries. As there is already a shortage of health-care professionals worldwide, international migration may be controversial and require a coordinated response.

3. Energy sources

Climate change will lead to job creation in the development of green energy sources and in occupations needed to mitigate the impacts of global warming.

In the short term, this will include some increases in jobs to design, manufacture, install and operate the new renewable electricity generating plants.

As new fuels are developed, the technology will be used in a wider range of vehicles and consumer goods, which will require new production lines or the refit of existing ones. But it is also likely to lead to job losses at industries closely connected to the generation and use of fossil fuels.

4. Construction and engineering

Finally, the industrialisation of some of the larger emerging markets around the world is likely to lead to the need for considerable infrastructure investment. Therefore, significant demand for skilled labour in the construction and engineering sectors, such as architects, civil engineers and experienced trades people can be expected.

This situation should also increase the demand for more permanent skilled labour for the production of engineering and mechanical goods.