EU Report Released on the Changing Nature of Work and Skills

By Gemma Creagh - Last update

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When it comes to employment, and our roles in the workplace, the times are changing. A new report has been released by the EU Science Hub, which aims to shed light on the effect of new technologies on the future of work and skills.

Changing Nature of Work and Skills: What’s Covered

Social media manager, Airbnb host, influencer, SEO specialist, app developer, Uber driver, driverless car engineer, podcast producer and drone operator; these are just some of the jobs that did not exist 10 years ago. What will happen in the future? What will today’s 10-year-olds do when they are 25? What kind of jobs will disappear, what will be created and why? Which new skills will be valuable in the job market? What new forms of work are emerging?

In the European Union (EU), the technological revolution is causing significant changes in the world of work. Some jobs are at risk of being lost to machines. Others are being transformed and new ones are being created. As a result, the skills we need are also changing. At the same time, new forms of employment are on the rise. Occupational structures are shifting, often leading to polarisation in employment and wages which in turn, can increase inequalities.

New technologies will reshape millions of jobs in the EU

Some jobs are highly vulnerable to automation. The jobs that are most exposed to automation appear to be those that require relatively low levels of formal education, those that do not involve relatively complex social interaction and those that involve routine manual tasks.

Technology also creates new jobs. New jobs related to the development, maintenance and upgrading of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and big data infrastructures are among those expected to grow. Yet, it is difficult to know in advance how many jobs like these will be created, and in what sectors they will emerge. Nevertheless, the kinds of jobs that are predicted to grow the most in the EU-28 by 2030 appear to be those that require higher education, intensive use of social and interpretative skills, and at least a basic knowledge of ICT.

However, new technologies affect tasks, not jobs. This explains why digital technologies do not simply create and destroy jobs: they also change what people do on the job, and how they do it. Job profiles could change substantially through the addition of new tasks or the modification of existing ones, requiring workers to adapt to new working methods, work organisation and tools. For example, the use of computers in the workplace has already had an impact on the nature of work: it appears to have shifted employment towards jobs with less routine and more social tasks. At the same time, computerisation has made work in certain jobs more repetitive and dependent on production targets and quality standards. This standardisation of work may pave the way for automation in the future.
Human-centred work organisation is the ultimate barrier to job automation. The aspects of work that require key attributes of human labour, such as creativity, full autonomy and sociability, are beyond the current capabilities of advanced AI. However, when work is organised in a discrete, standardised and predictable way, the automation of work becomes far more feasible.

Therefore, any reconfiguration of jobs due to the new technologies will entail the adaptation, shifting and modification of roles — and thus, skills and knowledge. What are the implications of these changes in terms of skills and education?

Digital and non-cognitive skills are becoming increasingly necessary to seize emerging job opportunities In future, it is likely that a moderate level of digital skills combined with strong non-cognitive skills will be in greater demand. The growing importance of both digital and non-cognitive skills is reflected in increasing wage differences between workers who are equipped with these skills and those who are not.
Yet, the digital skills shortage remains significant. One third of the EU labour force has no or almost no digital skills. Employers in the EU report that a large number of workers are not ready to respond to the rising demand for digital skills.

Workers will need non-cognitive skills to cope in an ever-changing workplace.

It is increasingly important that, in addition to knowledge, individuals acquire skills that help them to anticipate changes and to become more flexible and resilient. For low
skilled workers in particular, in the future, it will be harder to find employment without prior reskilling or upskilling. However, teaching non-cognitive skills seems to have been neglected across the EU despite its effectiveness.

But most importantly, the faster-evolving world requires change in the way that skills are provided. Europeans will need to learn throughout their entire life, both inside and outside of formal education.
Technology is a key driver of new forms of work Disaggregation of work into specific tasks is happening across all Member States, to varying degrees. Technology provides incentives for employers to contract out work, and enables workers to work remotely, both as employees and freelancers.

In fact, new forms employment such as casual work, ICT-based mobile work, and digitally-enabled forms of self-employment are gaining traction across the EU.

To read more, download the full report here.

Gemma Creagh

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