Future of Work

How computers polarize the workforce

The Bureau for Employer’s Activities at the ILO hosted a seminar on the Future of Work. Among the issues addressed, delegates looked at how technological advances are polarizing the world of work.

Audio | 05 December 2013
TRANSCRIPT: What will the world of work look like tomorrow? That question was addressed at a symposium organized by the ILO’s Bureau for Employer’s activities.

One of the areas discussed was the polarization of the workforce, a nascent trend participants said could become destabilizing if not properly addressed.

This phenomenon mainly affects advanced economies, where there is a decline in the proportion of middle-skilled, middle-income jobs as compared to both high-end and low-end jobs.

And the computer revolution of the past decades is partly to blame, says Maarten Goos, an expert on technological change and innovation who teaches at the University of Leuven, in Belgium

“One of the explanations for job polarization that people have looked at is computerization, and the idea is that computers can do the tasks done by medium skilled workers, the machine operatives and the clerks. Computerization is causing a decrease in the relative demand for these medium-skilled jobs and at the same time there’s an increase in demand for skilled work. We still need that software programmer to write that code to make that robotic arm move the way we want it to move. There’s an increased relative demand for managers and technical professions.”

David Dorn, of the Center for Monetary and Financial Studies in Madrid, stressed the importance of helping those workers left behind by the technological revolution to acquire the type of skills that are increasingly in demand.
“We have to think what we can do to give workers the skills to be prepared for those jobs where the employment opportunities are more likely to arise. What should be the focus is the development of problem-solving skills, creativity and of communications skills because those, I believe are areas that will be highly rewarded in the future.

And with such soft skills, workers will position themselves in one area where computers are not likely to compete with the human workforce, at least for the time being.

Patrick Moser at the ILO