20th Jan 2020

Automation threat to jobs will hit EU unevenly

  • Societies and governments must not wait to prepare themselves to respond to the challenges ahead in the field of employability, warns the report (Photo: European Commission)

A report has found that new technologies have the potential "to displace some workers from their tasks, even causing some jobs to disappear entirely" affecting the work nature of millions of jobs in Europe.

The jobs most likely to be affected by new technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics, are those that require low levels of education, involve routine tasks, are predictive or do not involve complex social interaction, says the report released on 24 September by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the EU Commission.

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Drivers, machine-plant operators, food preparation assistants, cleaners or labourers in mining, construction and manufacturing are some of the occupations which are expected to be automated in the future.

"Work and skills requirements are evolving rapidly as a result of technological progress, creating pressing policy challenges for the EU," said Tibor Navracsics, commissioner for education, youth, culture and sport and responsible for the JRC.

Societies and governments must not wait to prepare themselves to respond to the challenges ahead in the field of employability, warns the report.

Automation risk

According to some scholars, the jobs threat from automation is not uniform, varying from six percent in Norway to 33 percent in Slovakia – with an average of 14 percent in OECD countries.

The risk of job automation is likely to be higher in central Europe (Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland) and southern Europe (Greece, Spain), while Nordic countries and the UK seem to face a lower risk, states the report.

For instance, less than 50 percent of non-managerial, professional and technical occupations in the French textile and leather sector could potentially be automated by 2030, whereas in Poland this figure is close to 78 percent, according to the Eurofound.

Additionally, those countries with a larger part of employment in manufacturing will be more exposed to automation than those countries focussed on services.

The future jobs

The types of jobs that are likely to gain importance by 2030 are those which require higher education, intensive use of social and interpretative skills, and at least a basic knowledge of ICT.

However, 14 EU countries may still face shortages of ICT graduates by 2030, despite the increasing number of degree holders in this field, states the report.

According to the digital economy and society Index, 53 percent of companies had difficulties in filling vacancies for ICT specialists in 2018.

For example, data professionals accounted for 3.5 percent of total employment in the EU in 2017, with percentages around or above four percent in some countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK.

But data professions are expected to increase above four percent by 2025.

Digital technologies, such as AI or robotics, will not only determine job losses or creation but also shape the content and methods of work by "changing what people do on the job, and how they do it," states the report.

European response

The high-level expert group on the impact of the digital transformation on EU labour markets urged the commission in their report of 2019 to address the challenges mainly related to workers' skills to keep people employable in the future.

Among all the recommendations, the high-level expert group suggest the commission to reduce the structural skill gaps especially for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), workers at risk of automation and the low-skilled.

The commission proposed to invest €9.2bn of the next EU budget (2021-2027) to tackle the arising digital challenges and reinforcing the possibilities in the field of high-performance computing, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity.

"We need to ensure that our labour and social policies are fit for purpose in the 21st-century labour market," commissioner for employment, social affairs, skills, and labour mobility Marianne Thyssen warned.


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