Technology's impact on jobs might be less severe than previously thought

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Many studies in recent years have suggested significant job losses could result from the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning. However a new working paper from researchers at the OECD suggests that impact could be less severe than previously thought.

The OECD researchers still see large job losses in some sectors and suggest that re-training is key to limiting the impacts on workers. They believe that workers at younger ages could be impacted most, while older workers are also likely to face job losses.

Across the 32 countries studied, the researchers found that “close to one in two jobs are likely to be significantly affected by automation”. But the degree of risk varies. About 14% of jobs in OECD countries are highly automatable (probability of automation of over 70%). Although smaller than estimates from earlier studies, this is still equivalent to over 66 million workers across the 32 countries.

One important change noted in recent years is that jobs have become more intensive in less automatable tasks. The researchers note that “tasks such as analytical and social skills have become more common within occupations but occupations that already performed those tasks intensively have also grown in number”.

The study found that automation is likely to mainly affect jobs in the manufacturing industry and agriculture. The occupations with the highest likelihood of automation typically only require low levels of education. At the other end of the spectrum, the least automatable occupations almost all require professional training and/or tertiary education.

The research also found that automation has a “U-shaped impact” — it impacts the youngest and oldest workers the most, but the impact among youth jobs is far more pronounced than that for senior workers. However, young people are generally better skilled than their older counterparts so they may find it easier to adapt to new jobs and technologies.

The need for businesses to implement re-training programs for all workers and perhaps internships and similar training programs for younger people is going to be important in dealing with the change.

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