For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Skills-displacing technological change and its impact on jobs: challenging technological alarmism?"

by McGuinness, Seamus; Pouliakas, Konstantinos; Redmond, Paul (2021)


ABSTRACTWe use data from a new international dataset ? the European Skills and Jobs Survey ? to create a unique measure of skills-displacing technological change (SDT), defined as technological change that may render workers? skills obsolete. We find that 16 percent of adult workers in the EU are impacted by SDT, with significant variance across countries, ranging from a high of 28 percent in Estonia, to below seven percent in Bulgaria. Despite claims that technological change contributes to the deskilling of jobs, we present evidence that SDT is associated with dynamic upskilling of workers. The paper also presents the first direct micro-evidence, based on worker survey responses, of the reinstatement effect of automating technology, namely a positive contribution of automation to the task content and skills complexity of the jobs of incumbent workers. Despite the recent focus on the polarising impact of automation and associated reskilling needs of lower-skilled individuals, our evidence also draws attention to the fact that SDT predominantly affects higher-skilled workers, reinforcing inequalities in upskilling opportunities within workplaces. Workers affected by SDT also experience greater job insecurity.

Key Passage

It is increasingly documented that automation and technological change have the potential todestroy jobs, as well as to enhance and improve existing jobs by creating new tasks and rolesthat did not exist in the past. While predicting the exact impacts of technology on the labourmarket is virtually impossible due to the uncertainty involved, our research emphasises the positiveeffects of technological change that take place due to within-job reallocation effects on job tasks andskill requirements. Firstly, the share of workers affected by SDT appears low in light of some of theexisting research that has spurred much technological alarmism in the recent research and policydiscourse. We find that just 16 percent of EU employees experience SDT and a markedly lowershare of affected workers (6 percent) are fearful it will lead to imminent job loss. SDT employeestend to have higher levels of education and are more likely to have been promoted by theircurrent employer compared to workers unaffected by skills-displacing technological innovation. Inaddition, they are more likely to work in larger organisations and in roles that involve teamworkand non-routine tasks. The highest incidence of SDT is also observed among higher-skilled, professional, occupations, confirming the findings of Deming and Noray (2020), who demonstratehigh levels of skill turnover in such occupations based on online job vacancy data. (p.16)


Skills, Technology, Automation, Skills Displacing Technological Change, Workplace Change


Technology, Skills, Automation

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