There will be jobs, says the OECD, but automation threatens the nature of work

The OECD has urged governments across the world to bolster social protections as workers face another surge of unprecedented automation in the coming years.

Its latest report, ‘Employment Outlook 2019: The Future of Work makes for grim reading, in parts.

More than 10 years after the onset of the global financial crash, there has at last been a recovery of sorts with more people in employment since before the crash. But there is another wave of change on its way that could destroy millions of jobs.

Automation could cost 14% of existing jobs in the next 15 to 20 years, and the threat hovers over many more jobs which could change “radically”, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In Ireland, the report says 40% of jobs are at a high risk of automation or risk significant change in the next few decades. Across the OECD, Slovakia, because its huge car industry is most at risk. Some 65% of its jobs are at a high risk of extinction or risk significant change.

Even oil-rich Norway with the lowest comparative risk still has 30% of its jobs under threat. The UK has 38% of its jobs facing a high risk of automation or facing significant change. Its advice is that governments will need to prepare for huge changes, potentially to avoid social unrest.

“The OECD Employment Outlook does not envisage a jobless future. But it does foresee major challenges for the future of work,” said its secretary-general Angel Gurría.

“With the right policies, we can manage these challenges. We face significant transformation, but we have the opportunity and the determination to use this moment and build a future of work that benefits everyone,” he said.

Its prescriptions are for governments to focus on labour protections, social protection, and on learning and what it calls “social dialogue”. The OECD wants governments to regulate “false self-employment” and extend employment protections to an area it says is the “grey zone”, and to bolster training.

“Non-standard workers are, in some countries, 40% to 50% less likely to receive any form of income support while out of work than standard employees. Benefit entitlements should be made portable across jobs and targeted social protection measures complemented with more universal and unconditional support,” it says.

“In all OECD countries, training participation is lowest among those who need it most, including the low-skilled, older adults and non-standard workers,” the OECD reports says, and recommends “a major overhaul” for adult training.

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