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Jobs at risk as robots execute more tasks

The threats posed to jobs by robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are becoming more real as technology innovations evolve especially in advanced economies.

These multi-dimensional threats are contained in a report recently released by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The OECD has 36 members and was founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.

The report from the OECD finds that the tasks that AI and robots cannot do are shrinking rapidly.

The report goes on to say 14% of jobs across 32 countries are “highly vulnerable” to automation.

Such themes are not new. A World Economic Forum report on jobs predicted the Fourth Industrial Revolution would transform labour markets and the Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, has warned ‘large swathes’ of people could become ‘technologically unemployed.’

The OECD’s report says that in addition to the highly vulnerable roles, a further 32% of jobs will see significant changes to the way they are carried out.

This chimes with other research suggesting the effect of automation is unlikely to be felt equally.

A PwC report on U.K. jobs identified the likely “winners” and “losers” by industry sector. It said health, scientific and technical services and education would see an increase, while manufacturing, transport and public administration would see the largest losses.

Still, in the U.K., the net gain was likely to be “broadly neutral,” it concluded, with around the same number of jobs being created as are displaced. That report suggested education holds the key and said the government should invest more in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as art and design, to foster innovation. It also recommended “strengthening the safety net” for those who may find it hard to adjust to the technological changes.

“People are understandably worried about the impact of AI on jobs, and businesses and the government need to address these concerns head on,” said Euan Cameron, U.K. AI leader at PwC. “It’s likely that the fourth industrial revolution will favour those with strong digital skills, as well as capabilities like creativity and teamwork which machines find it harder to replicate.”

Job-related training will need to be a central part of the response to automation, but there are wide variations in training provision from country to country For example, 16% of workers participated in job related training in Greece and Turkey, compared with 60% in New Zealand and Denmark.

The OECD’s report calls for policies to educate workers to deal with the changes that are likely to occur. As well as skills like cognitive and social intelligence, it also advocates more digital training. The findings are in line with the Forum’s Future of Jobs report, which identified the skills needed to keep pace with rapid advances in technology.

In his predictions, Andy Haldane suggested jobs that focus on skills of human interaction; face-to-face conversation and negotiation would be likely to flourish, while manual jobs are more at risk. The Forum’s report identified how the skills needed are evolving, with creativity leapfrogging to become the third most important skill by 2020, up from 10th on the list in 2015.

“So far, the debate on these transformations has been sharply polarized between those who foresee limitless new opportunities and those that foresee a massive dislocation of jobs,” the Forum report said. “In fact, the reality is likely to be highly specific to the industry, region and occupation in question and the ability of various stakeholders to successfully manage change.”

Credit: World Economic Forum

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