Future Workforce Dilemma: Navigating the Challenge of Employment Opportunities for All

AI in the workplace

Will there be enough work for everyone in a few years

The deployment of AI does not obey the historical logic which saw jobs spill from agriculture into industry, then from industry into services, observe some economics professors.

Alfred Sauvy, economist, sociologist and demographer, is famous, among other things, for his theory of spillage presented in his work The Machine and Unemployment and Technical progress and employment. According to this theory, the active population from the primary sector, agriculture, historically transfers to the secondary sector, industry, and then to the tertiary sector, services.

This spill is an effect of the productivity gains generated by technical progress and mechanization which first affected agriculture at the end of the 18th century. Labor power is replaced by machines (faster, more powerful, more productive), which makes it possible to increase agricultural yield and therefore the volume of harvests.

Productivity gains will make it possible to lower prices, increase wages and profits and increase the purchasing power of consumers, who will be able to shift their consumption towards the purchase of equipment for the home, to clothing, to move around, therefore towards industrial products.

Peasants left the fields (because jobs there became rarer) for the city and worked in the factories which were booming due to the industrial revolution. There was therefore a flow of agricultural labor towards the secondary sector, the cradle of Fordism.

Highest qualification

Then came the shift from industrial jobs to services from the mid-1970s, when the tertiarisation of the economy took hold. Here again, jobs are being destroyed in industry, particularly low-skilled jobs. On the other hand, the new jobs created are always of greater qualification because they accompany technical progress: need for jobs for maintenance and the evolution of mechanization, jobs for controlling, adjusting and monitoring machines, jobs in IT and network management.

Modern economists specify, however, that there are obstacles to dumping because the jobs created are not identical either in nature or in number to the jobs destroyed, which poses the problem of retraining workers who are victims of technical progress.

The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), however, has now dampened this optimistic thesis, according to which jobs destroyed by technical progress give rise to new, better qualified jobs. And this for four reasons.

So far, artificial intelligence mainly influences the quality of jobs, according to the OECD. In the eyes of the organization, AI can reduce tedious or dangerous tasks, but also lead to a faster pace of work for humans.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will undoubtedly have a considerable effect on the labor market, but so far it has more influence on the quality than the quantity of jobs, notes the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in a recent study. Technicians work on a humanoid robot in the Hanson Robotics booth at the International Telecommunications Union’s AI for Good Summit.

In its Employment Outlook 2023, the OECD mentions the high uncertainty surrounding the current and especially future effects of AI on employment. They note that technology will affect almost all sectors of activity and all professions.

The OECD reports that there is little evidence of significant negative impacts of AI on employment in the literature. The possible negative effects could take time to materialize, according to the OECD.

So far, published work shows that AI mainly influences the quality of jobs, the organization continues. Workers and employers say AI can reduce tedious and dangerous tasks, improving worker motivation and physical safety, the study details. However, it is not without risks. Thus, it seems that the automation of simple tasks by AI like waste management tasks has sometimes resulted in a faster pace of work for workers.

For the OECD, public action and social dialogue have a key role to play in the face of the risks posed by AI, in particular by legislating or encouraging employers to offer training, as well as to support workers and businesses in the transition to AI.

On the other hand, with regard to labor markets, the study observes that, since 2022, the robust recovery recorded after the recession due to Covid-19 has run out of steam, while inflation has reached levels not seen since several decades in many countries. Nevertheless, employment is holding up and unemployment rates have reached their lowest level in several decades. The organization notes that the labor market remains tight in most countries, but these tensions appear to be easing.

In addition, real wages are falling in almost all OECD countries with a loss of purchasing power particularly problematic for workers in low-income households.