ICYMI: The Demographics of Automation in Canada: Who Is at Risk?

The executive summary, highlighting that the most vulnerable share the same characteristics as those having poor economic outcomes in the past. I wonder, however, whether the discovery of who are truly essential workers during COVID-19, would affect their conclusions:

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a new vulnerability among firms that rely on human labour. In order to comply with public health directives on physical distancing, many businesses have had to completely shut down their operations for months. Others remained functional thanks to teleworking, which many intend to prolong and even adopt permanently. As experts contemplate the long-term repercussions of the pandemic on the economy, many expect firms to ramp up their adoption of new technologies to better weather the post-pandemic recession and insulate themselves from future health crises.

Just a few years ago, policy-makers became concerned about the prospect of many job-related tasks being automated using advances in robotics and artificial intelligence and in particular about the projected job losses at the time. While we no longer expect entire jobs to disappear, new technologies may substantially transform jobs, forcing workers to adjust to new requirements and prompting governments to assist them in this process.

In this study, Statistics Canada researchers Marc Frenette and Kristyn Frank are breaking new ground by examining the demographic and employment characteristics of workers facing a high risk of job transformation due to automation. To assess the potential impact of a new wave of automation on vulnerable workers, policy-makers need to know not only what jobs are at risk but also who holds these jobs. For instance, while we know that previous waves of robotization replaced low-skilled workers and enhanced the work of those with high skills, this time around there are fears it is high-skilled workers who are at risk, given the rise of new algorithms that are increasingly proficient at accomplishing complex cognitive tasks.

Consistent with the findings of previous research, Frenette and Frank show that, overall, more than 10 percent of Canadian workers face a high risk of seeing their jobs transformed through automation – high risk being defined as a probability of 70 percent and higher. And close to 30 percent of workers face a 50-to-70 percent risk. What the authors underscore, however, is that the extent to which the automation risk varies is based on certain worker characteristics. For instance, more than a third of workers without a certificate, diploma or degree face a high risk of job transformation, compared with fewer than 4 percent for those with degrees. The probability of being at high risk also decreases significantly as employment income increases. Over a quarter of workers in the bottom decile of the income distribution are at high risk, whereas only 2 percent of workers in the top decile are. Also among the groups most exposed to job transformation are older workers (aged 55 and over), those with low literacy or numeracy proficiency, the part-time employed,  those working in small firms, and in manufacturing, where about 27 percent workers are at high risk. The authors find no significant differences in the risk of job transformation on the basis of gender, immigration status, having a disability or being unionized.

The results from this study stand in sharp contrast with many observers’ expectations that the new technologies could adversely affect workers previously seen as immune to automation. It suggests that the workers at high risk of job transformation due to automation, by and large, share the same characteristics as workers who have been susceptible to poor labour market outcomes in the past. Frenette and Frank say that more research is needed to better understand which characteristics can be interpreted as risk factors. Nevertheless, by shedding light on the differential effects of automation on particular segments of the workforce, their study contributes to labour market policy development going forward.

Source: https://irpp.org/research-studies/the-demographics-of-automation-in-canada-who-is-at-risk/

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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