People, machines, robots and skills
When technology is evolving rapidly across the spectrum of society, changes in the way we live, or how we work are inevitable. Although these changes are at a very large percentage acceptable at our daily routine, enthusiasm is mitigated when these changes relate to the industry and labour market.
Automation, which new technologies have already begun to offer, will change the way we used to work and will abolish older labor models. Changes in a great number of traditional and non-occupational professions, have already created a great deal of discontent and insecurity in workplace.
Everything around us is changing…
According to a recent pan-European survey carried out by the European Agency for the Development of Vocational Training CEDEFOP, 43% of adult European workers have seen significant changes in their daily work. Similarly, 47% of workers noticed overwhelming changes in their working methods or practices.
Differences, as we could imagine, have occurred more extensively in sectors such as new information technology and communication and less in sectors such as tourism and catering.
Substitution, Transformation, Creation
Perhaps the most important thing that needs to be emphasized, is the way that these changes are taking place. When we talk about how new technologies and automation are changing jobs, we usually mean that technology either substituting, transforming, or creating new jobs.
Substitution is the one cause that creates the biggest concern, and may cause a significant polarization in the labor market, between the skilled and the less well-trained workers.
However, the criteria with which we are trying to predict changes in workplaces are not stable. A job loss most of the times, creates another new in demands and techniques job position.
Change has the most positive sign in the future of employment. With technological progress, many jobs are being created and the working conditions are changing positevely.
Substitution is the one that worries workers the most, especially those who are not familiar with new technologies. Of course, the fears of replacing the workforce by machines are not new, but so far technological changes have proven to have a positive sign in the evolution of work. The most typical example of this positive change is agricultural production with the advent of agricultural machinery. Who also forgets Thomas Malthus, who pessimistically predicted that the increase of the population and life expectancy would have devastating effects. Of course, the industrial revolution has prooved him wrong, as food prices have fallen, and new wealth creation sites have been created, strengthening the middle class in Europe.
Of course, substitution is not a one-way street, since both in transformation and in the creation of new jobs, working conditions can change for the better. Transforming a person’s work position can be positive:
By moving a worker from a high-risk position (handling dangerous materials), to the position of a robot operator who will do this unhealthy work, we have a replacement. Along with the transformation, we also have the creation of a new job: the person who manufactures the robot.
The main problem we have to face is the lack of skills and the technological gap created by the inability to follow up and adapt to the rapid technological changes. The lack of skills and the inability to properly educate workers in order to acquire the necessary knowledge (foreign languages knowledge, use of computers, software, etc.) and accompany their work is what should be addressed immediately.
The future of the labour market
Technological skills, of course, are not a panacea. People are the ones who can leverage the speed and precision of the technological tools, with the proper handling and the power of human thinking.
Developments in technology that have already begun to change the world for decades, it is not feasible or desirable to be avoided. The human factor is the one who have to decide how, and which way should people and “machines” coexist.