OECD: Automation could cause mass disruption to workforce

Around half all jobs will be impacted by automation, the OECD predicts in its new Economic Outlook. 14% of jobs will be replaced entirely by automation and another 32% will be radically changed by the new technology.

This issue is exacerbated by widespread skills shortages. Some 60% of workers lack basic computer skills, the OECD said. Further, those most in need of training in the new skills are often the least likely to receive it.

A key point in the report is that the OECD does not foresee automation creating a net loss of jobs.

OECD: Automation will change society at a pace that is “startling”

The report was broadly optimistic about the overall impact of automation, but warned that governments need to take concerted action to minimise the disruption of the megatrend.

“Many people and communities have been left behind by globalisation and a digital divide persists in access to new technologies – resulting in inequalities along age, ender, and socio-economic lines,” the report notes.

“Not everyone has been able to benefit from the better jobs that have emerged, and many are stuck in precarious working arrangements with little pay and limited or no access to social protection, lifelong learning and collective bargaining.

“Moreover, there is a very real concern of a “hollowing out” of the middle-class as technological advancements have been accompanied by the emergence of many lower-quality and precarious jobs.”

In addition to its purely economic impact, this upheaval will have profound social implications, the report says. This means governments will need to be ready to act to mitigate the disruption caused by radical industry-wide changes to the nature and availability of employment.

The predicted impact of automation varies dramatically from country to country, the OECD has concluded.

Stefano Scarpetta, Labor Director of the OECD, predicted the sheer pace of change would be “startling” to many.

“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,” he wrote.

Differing views on the overall impact of automation on the job market

Automation has increasingly become a hot topic, but large-scale predictions on its impact vary enormously. The World Economic Forum (WEF) believes disruptive new technologies will lead to a net gain of 58 million jobs by 2025.

Conversely, many believe that radical measures, such as the implementation of universal basic income, are necessary to mitigate widespread job losses as AI, automation and machine learning displace existing roles on an unprecedented scale.

Earlier this year, AI expert Kai Fu Lee predicted that AI alone would eliminate 40% of current jobs, with those who drive for a living most threatened.

Think tank Center for Cities put the percentage of jobs displaced (by AI and automation) at 20% in a report produced last year.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently told an audience at South by Southwest that automation was not something to fear. “What it could potentially mean is more time educating ourselves, more time creating art, more time investing in and investigating the sciences, more time focused on invention, more time going to space, more time enjoying the world that we live in,” she said. “Not all creativity needs to be bonded by wage.”

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