How is our world of work changing? We get the views of two experts
Which jobs will be lost due to digitization? And which new job opportunities will emerge? Above all: how can we adapt to changes on the employment market? We ask professor Patricia Wolf and Michael Siegenthaler, a labor market specialist from the Swiss Economic Institute, for their views.
Which jobs will be eliminated by digitization?
The jobs generally at risk are those where predominantly repetitive tasks are performed, which can be replaced by technology. The demand for human labour is decreasing in these jobs. It doesn’t matter whether this results in an increase in work productivity, such as for accountants or business administration staff, or whether it remains the same, as in the case of cashiers or machine operators.
And which jobs will be the winners?
There will be strong demand for jobs involving non-routine tasks where the human workforce cannot be replaced by technology. The less technology contributes to increasing work productivity in these jobs, the greater the demand for human labour will be. This means researchers, teachers and managers are best placed. However, cleaners, hairdressers and street vendors will find their opportunities on the employment market intact despite digitization and automation.
How should we adapt as workers?
Nobody can accurately predict how our society and the employment market will develop. But we can envisage various future scenarios and derive skills from them which will be in high demand. Let’s assume that we will live in a world with great opportunities for self-fulfilment. Here you would find people predominantly working in knowledge-based and creative fields. But also people who possess and develop socio-emotional skills, are in care roles, who can motivate and advise as well as workers capable of maintaining and developing the technological infrastructure thanks to their technical and ICT skills. In other words, all the things that people do very well and enjoy doing. But it could all turn out very differently: what would happen in the event of a natural disaster or if our communications systems fail? What would happen to our jobs then? Asking such questions is worthwhile.
What does it mean for the individual?
It’s worth considering what you can do well and how you can use these skills in various scenarios. Everyone can do something extremely well. A cashier, for example, may have a friendly manner when serving people. This is a strong attribute for personal shopping.
Aren’t changes occurring at a frightening pace?
There’s a great deal of hysteria today, but unjustifiably so. Remaining agile is very important. But we know that people are adaptable. This is also reflected by the statistics. 65% of the jobs in the USA, for example, did not exist at all 25 years ago. We can deal with such changes.
About our expert
Prof. Dr. Patricia Wolf is a Professor of Integrative Innovation Management at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. She is also Professor in Innovation Management and member of the Future Laboratory CreaLab at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, and a Private Lecturer at the Department of Management, Technology and Economics at ETH Zurich.
Michael Siegenthaler, a labor market specialist at the Swiss Economic Institute at the ETH Zurich
Please take a look into the future for us – will many of the jobs we’re doing today vanish?
It’s better to talk about tasks than jobs as jobs usually consist of a set of tasks. Computers and robots usually replace individual tasks rather than entire jobs. Let’s take a lorry driver for example – a job that is often mentioned as being a potential victim of digitization and automation. While the actual driving may one day become superfluous due to the deployment of self-driving vehicles, people will nevertheless still be required in this job. Just think of unloading: a different situation has to be dealt with for each customer. Interaction is required – which means human labour, intuition and skills – to respond flexibly to different situations. The question is which skills will there be greater demand for in future, and for which will there be less.
And what is your response to that?
It’s generally routine tasks, which follow clear rules and are repetitive, that are in jeopardy. For example, this includes the task of searching for previous cases at law firms. This can be done more efficiently by computers using big data. The demand for jobs that mainly require abstract problem-solving, creativity and social interaction may increase. These tasks are predominant in careers such as researchers, technology specialists, teachers, health care professionals or managers and people in creative roles. But gardeners and cleaners also do work that cannot be easily digitized or automated because they require flexible adjustment to the environment. The cleaning of a hotel room is much too complex for a robot. How is it supposed to decide whether an item is rubbish or something that has been left lying around?
Is there enough time left to prepare ourselves for the employment market of the future?
You should definitely not allow the scare stories in the media to give you sleepless nights. The speed of technological change is always overestimated. We’ve been talking about self-scanning check-outs since the mid-2000s. But they are only finding their way into our everyday lives now. The same thing is revealed by a look at the past: when ATMs were introduced in the 1960s, there were fears of a sharp decline in the number of bank employees, because their main task at that time was issuing money. The picture today is completely different: there is a much greater workforce in the banking sector than at that time, but they now perform different tasks to dispensing cash. The example shows that digitization causes far-reaching change in the employment market and in many career profiles. But there is still demand for many of our skills.
About our expert
Michael Siegenthaler, a labor market specialist at the Swiss Economic Institute at the ETH Zurich He also works as a lecturer at the ETH Zurich and at the Department of Economics at the University of Bern. He is listed as one of the 25 most influential Swiss economists in the NZZ ranking of economists.