Automation will massively change the world of work. Which jobs will stay, which will disappear? A study by the EU Commission looks for answers.

UM – 01/2020

The Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) in collaboration with the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE Consulting), has investigated how the world of work will change over the next ten years as a result of the ongoing automation of work processes. The aim is to support policy debate on the future of work in the 4th Industrial Revolution. The results are of a rather general nature with regression analysis based on data from 25 EU countries (see study ‘What Work Disappears’).

People, brains & brawn

The chosen methodology analyses and relates three factors that determine each profession and job to a different degree. The variable ‘people’ is for the activities and skills needed to interact with other people in a job and the variable ‘brains’ is for those that require abstract thinking. ‘Brawn’, on the other hand, refers to purely physical requirements and skills that are needed when working with machines and tools. The correlation of the three variables makes it possible to estimate how likely it is that a job will exist or not exist in ten years.

Muscles becoming increasingly unimportant

The general conclusion of the analysis is that jobs that require a high level of competence in non-linear thinking (‘brains’) are less likely to be replaced by machines. Jobs that require both abstract thinking and engagement with other people are also comparatively safe. Unsurprisingly, highly physical work (‘brawn’) is most likely to fall victim to automation. Unless the jobs in question have strong social interaction and involve intellectual challenges in addition to physical demands. The stronger these factors are, the more likely these jobs are to survive. 

Country-specific differences

However, the study also shows that the real situation is complex. The future of work in each country also depends on the extent to which the jobs in that country can be automated at all. According to the theoretical analysis, in areas that should be more at risk of substitution, the Scandinavian countries and France have a comparatively high share of specific jobs that are considered non-automatable, which protects them. This is also true for Germany, where many jobs are strongly geared towards social interaction. Conversely, jobs in Ireland and the Czech Republic, which are comparatively safe in theory, are nevertheless at risk because many of them can be easily automated. Consequently, policymakers must always take a more detailed look if they want to examine which measures are needed to ensure that the skills and competences required on the labour markets in the future are safeguarded and promoted in a targeted manner.