April 12, 2018

Developed economies less likely to lose jobs to automation than previously reported

Developed economies less likely to lose jobs to automation than previously reported

Fewer people are likely to lose their jobs to automation than previously suspected, according to a working paper released in March by the OECD.

The study builds on previous research by Frey and Osborne of the Oxford Martin School, who in 2013 suggested that 47% of jobs in the US are at a high risk of being automated. 

The OECD researchers have built on Frey and Osborne’s assessment and estimated the risk of automation for individual jobs based on data from the 32 OECD countries that participate in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC).

The new working paper emphasizes the characteristics of jobs and of the workers who hold them and estimates that about 14% of jobs in the OECD countries participating in PIAAC are highly automatable (with a probability of automation of over 70%), equivalent to over 66 million workers in those 32 countries.

A further 32% of jobs have a risk of between 50% and 70%, suggesting that a significant share of the tasks involved could be automated, changing the skill requirements for these jobs.

Jobs in the Nordic and Anglo-Saxon countries, and the Netherlands are revealed as being less automatable than those in Eastern European countries, South European countries, Germany, Chile, and Japan.

Roles in the manufacturing industry and agriculture are mainly found to be affected, but jobs in postal and courier services, land transport, and food services are also found to be highly automatable. They are all roles that typically only require a basic to low level of education. The least automatable occupations almost all require professional training and/or tertiary education.

The risk of automation also peaks among teen jobs. It appears that youths and adults do different things at work, even when they hold jobs with the same occupational title, suggesting that automation may have greater implications for youth unemployment policies than for early retirement policies.

The report highlights the importance of providing retraining and social protection for the 14% of workers whose jobs are at high risk, as well as to those 32% who are likely to face significant changes in the way they carry out their work tasks, and calls for countries to strengthen their adult learning policies to prepare their workforce for the changes in job requirements they are likely to face.

Andries De Grip has written about the importance of informal learning at work for IZA World of Labor. He stresses that “[K]eeping a worker’s skills up-to-date through informal learning becomes more important when skill demands change frequently due to technological and organizational innovations and when mandatory retirement ages are raised.” He recommends facilitating a culture of learning and fostering greater cooperation between schools and the business world in the co-creation of training courses that encourage further learning at the workplace.

Find more IZA World of Labor articles on innovation and the future of work.