IDC Forecasts Strong Growth in Mobile Workforce

In just three years, mobile workers will account for more than one-third of the global workforce.

In just three years, mobile workers will account for more than one-third (37.2 percent) of the global workforce. That's 1.3 billion mobile workers.

This is according to market watcher International Data Corp. (IDC), which recently revised its workforce mobility forecast, projecting huge increases in the emerging and/or rapidly developing economies of the Asia-Pacific region.

Over the same period, IDC forecasts, the growth in workforce mobility in the Americas will actually slow, owing chiefly to high unemployment and a sluggish economic recovery. In at least one locale (Japan), it will actually decline.

IDC's Worldwide Mobile Worker Population, 2011-2015 report paints a picture of a global workforce that's marching inexorably toward mobility. "Despite recent market turmoil, mobility continues to be a critical part of the global workforce and we expect to see healthy growth in the number of mobile workers,' said Stacy Crook, senior research analyst for IDC's Mobile Enterprise Research program, in a statement. "Our forecast shows that the worldwide mobile worker population will increase from just over 1 billion in 2010 to more than 1.3 billion by 2015."

To put it into perspective, the population of the earth eclipsed the 7 billion mark on October 31, 2011, according to the United Nations. By 2015, then, between 17 and 18 percent of the world's total population will consist of mobile workers.

Inexorably Mobile

IDC divides the mobile workforce into three categories: office-based mobile workers, non-office-based mobile field workers, and home-based mobile workers.

There's a huge amount of variety in all three categories, however: office-based mobile-types, for example, can include professionals who are away from their primary workplace 20 percent or more of the time; workers who are mobile less than 20 percent of a work-month, or (at the extreme end) work remotely only a few times a year); or non-travelers who are "mobile" in an exclusively in-office or on-campus context. From an IT (support) standpoint, mobility can involve everything from completely unplugged road warriors to occasionally itinerant desk jockeys.

Using these terms, some workforces are already highly mobilized.

As of 2010, for example, fully three-quarters (75 percent) of the North American workforce had been mobilized. (According to IDC, this tally stood at 72.2 percent in 2008.) Between 2010 and 2015, IDC expects the number of mobile workers in the Americas -- including mobile workers in Central and South America -- to increase by 16 percent, from 182.5 million to 212.1 million.

That's small compared with the Asia Pacific region, which already boasted 601.7 million mobile workers in 2010. IDC expects that tally to increase by 237 million (or 39 percent) by 2015, when it will approach 839 million. "Much of this is due to the sheer size of the population in China and India, combined with strong economic expansion in both countries," the IDC release indicates.

IDC expects mobility to post huge gains in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), too, growing from 186.2 million mobile workers in 2010 to 244.6 million in 2015. That's good for a compound annual growth rate of 5.6 percent and an overall increase of almost one-third (31.3 percent).

Owing to population trends, not all countries or locales will post net increases in the number of mobile workers. In Japan, for example, IDC projects that the number of mobile workers will decrease between 2010 and 2015 at a CAGR of 0.2 percent. On the other hand, the penetration of mobility (as a percentage of Japan's overall workforce) will increase over the same period.

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