Much has changed since Cognizant launched the Jobs of the Future (CJoF) Index in 2018, which tracks job postings for 50 digitally enabled jobs of the future identified by Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work. In workplaces across the US, use of the latest digital technologies and solutions has transformed employee behaviors, augmented traditional ways of working and led to the creation of new jobs to drive digital growth.
These changes were particularly acute in early 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic further disrupted not just how and where people worked but also how they lived and obtained goods and services. With businesses lurching into a digital-first world and facing a new industrial era, employee and consumer behaviors further shifted, and new job descriptions emerged.
But the pandemic also changed the trajectory of work, as measured by the CJoF Index. In April 2020, the jobless rate ballooned to 14.8%, marking the end of the longest employment recovery and expansion in US history. With state and local government restrictions on businesses and individuals continuing throughout the year, total non-farm employment ended the year 10 million below its February peak.
The results are evident when you compare the CJoF Index to the All Burning Glass Jobs (ABGJ) Index, which tracks jobs in the overall US economy. From mid-2016 (the start of the period covered by our CJoF data analysis), through to mid-2021, the index grew by 78%, underscoring the vitality of these 50 jobs of the future. Over this same period, the ABGJ Index grew even faster, by 104%.
But when you tighten the focus to mid-2016 to just mid-2020, the CJoF Index outperformed the ABGJ Index (growing by 46% vs. 30%, respectively, from the start of the measurement period). It was after the third quarter of 2020 that the ABGI began outperforming the CJoF Index.
Here’s why this occurred. After the employment collapse in 2020, the demand for jobs reversed course, and the unemployment rate fell, plunging to 4.2% by November 2021. With restrictions easing and vaccines proliferating — and some workers leaving the labor market for good — there was pent-up demand for traditional service-oriented and brick-and-mortar jobs across sectors that had cut back their activities, including leisure and hospitality, retail, transportation, healthcare, manufacturing and construction.
This is the dynamic that caused the ABGJ Index, which measures all jobs, to outpace the CJoF Index, which measures new digital economy jobs.
At the same time, however, traditional work has been augmented by digital technology, digitized workflows and collaborative tools to enable hybrid working and greater flexibility. Doctors and nurses, for example, now use videoconferencing platforms to see patients, while manufacturing teams collaborate through virtual platforms for remote operations. Virtual lunches replaced the water cooler, and the future of work veered away from new job creation to worker augmentation.
In addition to total job openings, the CJoF Index also monitors trends in eight job families: Algorithms, Automation and AI (AAA); Customer Experience; Environment; Fitness and Wellness; Healthcare; Legal and Financial Services; Transport; and Work Culture. All eight job families posted growth from mid-2016 to mid-2021, but with wide variations heightened by the pandemic.
From a job-by-job standpoint, the fastest-growing jobs in the CJoF Index from mid-2016 to mid-2021 reflect these broader trends and share a common trait: they focus on the health and safety of people and the planet.
Conversely, the slowest growing jobs in the CJoF Index over the same period were generally jobs of the future whose expansion was diminished by the pandemic.
The uptick in openings for digitally enabled jobs in the first half of 2021 bodes well for the jobs of the future. It broadly suggests a continued transition to a digital-first world, better prospects for skilled, higher-wage earners, and larger investments by private businesses and the public sector in their own digital transformation.
But the CJoF Index also suggests the emergence of other trends that will shape our work lives in the coming years. One is greater emphasis on ESG issues, which will have major implications for how, why and where people choose to work. Another is the shift to hybrid working, which will likely continue even after the pandemic ends. With these trends converging, the future of work is coming into greater focus.