Robotic arms controlled by a doctor demonstrate robotic surgery (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
What impact are robots having on jobs?
The debate about technological change, and whether it could lead to widespread unemployment has been revived in recent years in several studies.
The seminal 2013 paper by Frey and Osborne sparked much debate about the impact of digitisation. They claimed that 47% of US jobs are susceptible to being computerised.
A 2016 paper by the OECD challenges Frey and Osborne’s (FO) view of automation who looked at susceptibility by occupation. Instead the OECD research applied a model that looked at the likelihood of tasks being automated. The OECD found that 9% of jobs across the OECD, and 10% of UK jobs, were vulnerable to automation.
Does robotisation result in unemployment?
In the UK we currently have record employment rates. As Katie Allen argues here, technology has destroyed jobs, especially in manufacturing and agriculture. However, it has also increased prosperity. This means that there has been a compensating expansion of employment in providing new services and making new goods. Therefore there is no net loss of jobs to new technology.
There has been a ‘hollowing out’ of the labour market seemingly due to machines. Andy Haldane noted in his lecture to the TUC in November 2015 that:
“technology appears to be resulting in faster, wider and deeper degrees of hollowing-out than in the past. Why? Because 20th century machines have substituted not just for manual human tasks, but cognitive ones too”.
The OECD study found this hollowing out is having particularly adverse consequences for people at the lower end of the labour market and will require workers to (re)train. Other workers on mid-pay, mid-skill have skilled down and have found themselves in jobs they are over-qualified for.
According to Haldane:
“‘hollowing out’ may become more pervasive. And gaps between those with and without skills, or with and without jobs may widen as never before”
So unions clearly have a role to play in ensuring workers get the necessary training in the event of automation, and in up-skilling workers.
Does robotisation increase productivity?
The Resolution Foundation argue that to increase productivity in the current economic situation, new technologies are a key part. This will enable a much needed increase in low-wages and boost in low-skills. The flip side of this however, is that the increased use of technology to increase productivity may result in more hollowing out of the labour market.
This is the second in a series of blogs considering the extent of robotisation and its impact. Also read: