Job automation: 5 myths

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Facts to remember:

– It is very difficult to predict which jobs will be automated and when
– The ways of calculating vary greatly from one study to another
– Automation also creates jobs that did not exist before

1) Are most jobs at risk of being automated? False

In 2016, 10.6% of Canadian workers had a high risk (70% chance or more) of having their job automated and 29.1% a “moderate risk” (50% to 70% chance). according to Statistics Canada. The agency does not give a time horizon.

This report specified that certain categories of workers were more at risk than others, particularly those aged 55 and over, who did not have a baccalaureate degree in certain areas, who had a low level of literacy or arithmetic, an occupation. low-income or working in manufacturing.

But the estimate of the level of risk varies according to the methodology used and the estimated time horizon. Thus, according to a 2017 CD Howe study, while jobs that are highly vulnerable to automation account for 35% of jobs in Canada, those jobs are unlikely to disappear completely in the next few years. And labor sectors where more than three-quarters of employees are at high risk of being replaced by machines would account for only 1.7% of the country’s jobs (or 310,000 jobs).

Even the transformation of higher-risk jobs is not necessarily imminent, according to economist Jim Stafford of McMaster University. The weakness of the technological investments of the companies, the lack of social acceptability, the barriers related to the labor security and the respect to the private life, the ill-adapted infrastructures and the insufficient requalification of the workers, represent barriers for the technological transformations. , Jim Stafford wrote in a January 2000 report commissioned by the Public Policy Forum.

Thus, in a key sector such as information technology, investment has stagnated since the bursting of the Internet bubble in 2000. It had fallen by 1.6% of northern GDP. -American in 1980 at about 4% in 2000, the threshold it is always at, according to the firm BSI Economics: sees a sign of a certain ceiling of robotization.

2) Can we plan for automation? False

In 2018, the OECD estimated that 9.2% of jobs were now fully “automated” in its 21 member countries. But again, depending on the methodology, the numbers can vary considerably. Thus, in Canada, 42% of workers would be threatened by automation within 10 to 20 years, according to a 2016 study by the Brookfield Institute.

It is a little clearer if we analyze by job categories. In its 2021 Employment Review, the Institut du Québec (IQ) estimates that while routine manual or cognitive work is more at risk, non-routine work is much less at risk, particularly those that require manual dexterity and non-standard analytical skills. , improvisation, creativity, social skills or empathy …

Marketing consultancy Forrester Research stated in 2016 that customer service agents and taxi drivers would soon be endangered species.

“At home, some believe that automation will primarily affect natural resources and agriculture,” said Eric Noel of the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. But these sectors account for just 2.3% of the country’s employment. »

The IQ 2021 report, overseen by Mr. Noël, specifies that it is not easy to calculate job automation, because all the numerous studies have defects in their estimates of the rate of replacement of people / machines. “Researchers underestimate or overestimate the technologies, workers and permeability of organizations to change,” writes the organization, which sets the example of truckers: they are threatened by the development of autonomous transport but so far no sensor offers a optimum performance in winter. conditions.

“In the retail trade, says Alain Bélanger, professor at the INRS, the robots may soon fill the shelves of supermarkets, where there are already automated cash registers. But a robot can never help you choose a jacket …

“Changes in the job market are often not where you think they are,” said Robert Gagné of HEC Montreal’s Department of Applied Economics. “I do not see how we will automate the workers of a Tim Hortons or the assistants of a CHSLD. »

3) Are automated jobs lost forever? I’m not sure

A 2013 study by two Oxford University researchers, who are educated among Quebec experts, reported that 47% of U.S. jobs were at risk of being fully or partially automated by 2033. this, in 2021, to the revision Societiesone of the two authors, Carl Benedikt Frey, put his conclusions into perspective: later studies indicated that the automation he envisioned would have little impact on the activity rate, as workers were able to reclassify themselves by improving their skills.

In fact, automation will create many jobs in sectors that do not exist today. IQ gives examples: repairers of domestic robots, home automation or telematics systems for autonomous vehicles, programmers-psychologists of artificial emotional intelligence, lawyers specializing in artificial intelligence for defense files in tactile cyberstimulation, supervisors-correctors in automated systems, applied cybersecurity experts. to connected objects, hyperspectral data storage technicians, etc.

“We tend to exaggerate the sophistication of future technology jobs, even for workers who do not have a degree in computer science,” says Eric Noel. Many of these jobs will be filled by workers who are trained accordingly. According to him, the 10 or 20 most popular jobs in ten years do not yet exist.

In some industries, automation is inevitable.

4) Are unskilled people at greater risk? False

Undoubtedly, the more educated — and younger — workers are, the less likely they are to be affected by job automation. But the diploma is not a proof of everything.

Therefore, automation will affect office staff more than catering or agriculture. The following positions would be especially at risk of transformation, according to a 2020 Statistics Canada publication already mentioned: receptionist (35.7%), tailor, shoemaker, food service supervisor (20%), electrician (19.7% ), sales representative (14.7%), travel agent or security, customer service representative (13.7%), equipment operator (13.2%). According to Statistics Canada, the manufacturing, catering and housing, transportation and storage, trade, healthcare and construction sectors are at the highest risk of being affected by automation.

Various activities will be little or not affected, such as finance and insurance, the agency also said. But it is never white or black: the IQ provides the example of the explosion of set up Quebec fintech companies, which threaten the financial sector, mainly financial advisors, insurers and lending activities. The IQ estimates in its 2021 report that 37,000 jobs are threatened in these sectors in Quebec. Although a number of these workers will be reclassified through activities related to new technologies deployed by fintech or financial institutions.

5) Does the Great Resignment Also Occur in Quebec? False

We call it “Great Resignation” (or Great Resignation) those millions of American workers who have recently left the workforce. The phenomenon would be exacerbated by the pandemic. the New York News published in December 2021 that about 3% of American workers, or 4.3 million people, had quit their jobs last year. In November, five million workers were left to return to pre-pandemic activity, Nobel columnist and economist Paul Krugman recalled in that newspaper.

Citing labor economist Arindrajitt Dube, Krugman believes that these millions of workers simply quit their jobs because the pandemic made them realize that they were underpaid or in abysmal working conditions, especially among the blue-collar workers. Many people took the opportunity to retire early. Therefore, automation would have nothing to do with this phenomenon.

However, the Great Resignation would be an unknown phenomenon in Quebec. “There was no significant increase in Régie des rentes du Québec beneficiaries in 2020 and 2021,” says Mia Homsy, director general of the Institut du Québec. And job change surveys in the workforce show some stability among those who say they have retired or changed jobs. »

Thus, in December 2021, the job exchange rate (which quantifies the number of workers changing companies) stood at 0.63%, lower than before the pandemic, according to the report Employment IQ 2021. “If we look at the labor market as a whole, activity rates are historically high, especially among women and older workers,” Ms. Homsy.

Photo: Kittipong Jirasukhanont | The hour of dreams

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