The end of work as we know it

 Article in Social Europe

Changing employment structures and new skills requirements are converting the world of work. Both qualification and employment are part of the productivity game illustrated by EANPC’s productivity flower.

Globalisation, automatisation and digitalisation transform some jobs more than others. "Workers carrying out routine tasks like data processing are increasingly likely to be replaced by machines; but those pursuing more creative endeavors are more likely to experience increases in productivity" writes Jean Pisani-Ferry, Professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin (Germany) in a recent article for Social Europe. "Meanwhile, workers providing in-person services might not see their jobs change much at all. In other words, robots might put an accountant out of work, boost a surgeon’s productivity, and leave a hairdresser’s job unaltered."

The most likely outcome is called the polarisation of employment: "Automation creates service jobs at the bottom end of the wage scale and raises the quantity and profitability of jobs at its top end. But the middle of the labor market becomes hollowed out."1

As a remarkable example the author says "the job market is being transformed by digital platforms like Uber that facilitate exchanges between consumers and individual suppliers of services." He closes with a strong recommendation: "Rather than try to stop the unstoppable, we should think about how to put this new reality at the service of our values and welfare. In addition to rethinking institutions and practices predicated on traditional employment contracts - such as social security contributions - we will need to begin to invent new institutions that harness this technology-driven transformation for our collective benefit. The backbone of tomorrow’s societies, after all, will be built not by robots or digital platforms, but by their citizens."

1 The new European Jobs Monitor 2015 is entitled Upgrading or polarization? In practice, the report tells us, "employment changes observed at country level only approximate such schematic shapes; they are a mix of both or are some hybrid, less discernible shape. In the EU as a whole, over the periods covered by this report’s analysis from 1995, employment shifts have tended to be upgrading but with some evidence of polarisation, which becomes more obvious in recessions." (p. 12) - Source: Eurofound 2015: Upgrading or polarisation? Long-term and global shifts in the employment structure: European Jobs Monitor 2015. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Pisani-Ferry, Jean (2015) - The End Of Work As We Know It. Social Europe, 11 August.

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