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OECD in Stark Warning Over Automation’s Impact on Jobs

"Individuals will face deep and rapid changes: many will have to change not only their job but even their occupation, and most will have to modernise their skills and working practices"

By CBR Staff Writer

Nearly half of all existing jobs will be radically transformed by the rise of automation within 15-20 years, the OECD has warned in a new employment outlook, saying governments need to urgently overhaul their approach to employment and jobs to reduce further social and economic tensions caused by the shift.

In a landmark new report, the intergovernmental economic organisation says 14 percent of jobs could vanish as a result of automation and a further 32 percent change radically, and warns over a “very real concern” of a hollowing out of the middle-class; as industrial automation, for example, causes a rise in more precarious jobs.

“The OECD Employment Outlook does not envisage a jobless future. But it does foresee major challenges for the future of work,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in Berlin with Hubertus Heil, Germany’s Labour Minister

(The report notes that he fact that a job could potentially be automated does not mean that this will actually happen: automation may not always be cost-effective or desirable, it may raise legal and ethical concerns, and policy decisions remain open…)

OECD Employment Outlook

The UK is less at risk than many, in part owing to its smaller industrial base, the report suggests. It notes: “The United Kingdom is one of the OECD countries that has experienced the fastest grow in ICT use in the workplace over the past two decades… “Despite this, jobs [are] at a lower risk of automation than the OECD average”.

The report attributes this lower risk to an already flexible labour market but notes that market disparities may grow as a result, with jobs for young people worsening over the past decade: “Young people with less than tertiary education have been particularly affected, with more of them being under-employed, or receiving low pay.”

In all OECD countries, the report notes, training participation is lowest among those who need it most, including the low-skilled, older adults and non-standard workers.

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The OECD is calling for a “major overhaul of adult learning programmes” to increase their coverage and harness the benefits of the changing world of work

“Measures should include removing time and financial constraints to participation in training, making training rights portable, and providing quality information and counselling.” (“Individual learning accounts” have been proposed and implemented in a few countries as one way for workers to acquire and accumulate training rights irrespective of their employer or whether they change jobs or employment status.)

It also calls for

Stefano Scarpetta, OECD Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs said: “Deep and rapid structural changes are on the horizon, bringing with them major new opportunities but also greater uncertainty among those who are not well equipped to grasp them. The pace and depth of the digital transformation is likely to be startling.”

The report also calls for greater labour rights globally, including scope for collective bargaining, and better social protection for those hit by the impact of automation.

It comes after an October 2018 report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) forecast that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans, compared to 71 percent being performed by humans today.

That report noted that the “rapid evolution of machines and algorithms in the workplace” could create 133 million new roles in place of 75 million that will be displaced between now and 2022.

See also: Robotic Process Automation and The Future of Work

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