Emerging Trends: Job Automation
In this article, Questia Group focuses on job automation. Our research was conducted through an online survey on our platform http://questia.ro covering 490 respondents, with a plus or minus 4% margin of error. The survey was active between 18 and 21 July 2017. Our key findings are presented below.
The nature of work and the way people performed it has changed throughout the history numerous times and with different implications. However, due to the rise of the digital technology, the pace of change has been accelerated significantly and so have the polarized debates around it. Driverless cars, intelligent VR assistants like Siri or Alexa, healthcare robots (in Japan), drones delivering packages, algorithms that do one’s accounting or legal assistance are already part of today’s world. Even so, the question is: will this trend help or hinder millions of workers around the world?
Different approaches offer positive or negative responses to this question. Broadly and not thoroughly, the positive aspects imply new and flexible opportunities. New jobs and industries, that did not exist before, will be created, like any other jobs that did not exist prior to the Industrial Revolution. Such new jobs include and are not limited to big data specialists, social media managers, cognitive computing engineers, Internet of Things architects and blockchain developers. Jobs like child care, care for the elderly, social work, mental health care for instance, easily stand out as jobs with low risk of automation. See the European Commission’s approach to this issue here. New automation technologies in areas like AI and robotics, through productivity gains, shall generate additional wealth and spending that will support additional jobs of existing kinds, primarily in services sectors that are less easy to automate.
The negative aspects include trends that have already been developing: outsourcing, through the rise of the ‘gig economy’ (from employers to independent suppliers of services and contractors) or labor relocation. This implies that both the sum of job creation and job destruction is intensifying. People will be increasingly likely to change employers, jobs, employment status and professions numerous times and at faster paces than ever before. As the European Commission’s report underlies, people will most likely also have to work longer, either out of choice or necessity.
And while some people have the tools and the mindset to embrace and enjoy the flexibility, some don’t have the necessary skills, competencies, and support to embrace such changes. For instance, it is already difficult for women to re-enter the labor market after maternity leave. Young graduates don’t always have the necessary skills and education to enter the labor market. People over 45 years find it difficult to get a new job as they are often deemed 'too expensive’, or even ‘too old’ to retrain. Not to mention the people who don’t have access to or don’t afford education. Thus, policymakers need to maneuver between two trends: preserving the core of a social market economy while being open to innovation and technology-driven change that impacts organizations and individuals alike.
As for Romania, its job market is the most vulnerable in the EU: almost 61.9% of present jobs could be lost due to automation (in comparison to 54% rate at the level of EU). The most affected industries are forecasted to be those in the administration, manufacturing and agriculture.
Asked whether they have heard of job automation, over two-thirds of the respondents (73.6%) are aware of the phenomenon, and only 23.3% said they haven't heard about this trend.
More than a half (62.3%) agree to a great extent that in the next 10 years robots will be performing almost all activities on the job market. This means that respondents are aware of the implications of the ‘digital revolution’.
However, most Romanians expect that their own jobs or professions will remain largely unchanged and exist in their current forms 10 years from now. This shows that even though at the macro level people seem to understand how job automation will affect the job market, at the personal level they are more optimistic. This is in line with <a href="http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/03/10/public-predictions-for-the-future-of-workforce-automation"target="_blank"> other studies conducted on the topic.
The positive implications are connected to economic growth (77.6%) and the opportunity to learn new things (68.0%). On the other hand, work relations (37.3%) and societal inequalities (33.5%) have been attributed negative connotations. This shows that the respondents have faith that this trend will positively affect the economic growth, but are concerned that our existing social structures (especially educational) are not ready for this change.
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