As technology evolves, some repetitive tasks are automated, which can lead to fears of machines replacing humans. How employers, governments and institutions act will make the difference between technology stealing or enriching jobs. , for instance, saw ATMs replace them in cash counting and transaction tasks, but also saw their own tasks and numbers evolve as a result.
A public-private collaboration between the national employment agency Adem, employment portal Jobfirst and Liser, under the wing of the national research fund FNR, tried to identify, among jobs not requiring a university diploma, which ones were strained by a lack of workforce and which ones were at risk of being replaced by automation. Their findings did not surprise the researchers as they aligned with trends noted by members of the trade business active in the Greater Area.
Shortages in care and construction
Care assistants, skilled artisans for structural construction and finishing work (plastering, etc.), mechanics and machine repairers are among the profiles with the biggest workforce deficit. Due to the lack of repetition in daily tasks, these are at a low risk of being automated. Of course, “the shortage is likely to continue in the coming years if job seekers or inactive people willing to enter the labour market do not have the skills required,” the study notes.
“If the vacant jobs are not taken by unemployed or young people entering the market, this will inevitably encourage companies to be more interested in finding robots to replace these jobs.”
The other trades in short supply are more easily automated due to their relatively high intensity of routine tasks. These are foundry moulders, welders, sheet metal workers, boilermakers, ironworker, blacksmiths, toolmakers, woodworkers and cabinetmakers. Machine operators also could be replaced by automation if nothing is done to train the workforce necessary for these jobs.
Automation in some cases could ease the demand, but in the longer term, could lead to job loss, if those replaced by machines aren’t upskilled, Martin explains. “If the vacant jobs are not taken by unemployed or young people entering the market, this will inevitably encourage companies to be more interested in finding robots to replace these jobs,” she says. The cost of automation could also be a factor: “If it is cheaper to hire a robot than to hire a person, the company may be encouraged to automate these jobs more quickly.”
Shifting the view on manual work and automation
Aside from soft skills and an affinity for teamwork, all these jobs require technical knowledge. Already in the craft sector, “it’s a pity is that we have difficulty attracting young people to these sectors, especially when you see the Swiss or German systems, where they really do what is necessary to attract young people to all possible jobs,” says Martin. In countries like France and Luxembourg, there is pressure to obtain university diplomas, even if the demand is low in some fields requiring university degrees, she says.
The employer cannot keep the employees if he does not have the jobs that correspond, so the employee has to be trained up.”
On the one hand, therefore, there needs to be a shift in the mindset of schools and training centres. On the other hand, for easily automated jobs, employers and adult education programs need to look into upskilling the workforce at risk of unemployment. “The employer cannot keep the employees if he does not have the jobs that correspond, so the employee has to be trained up,” explains Martin, who adds that training centres can help SMEs, which may not have the resources internally, in this endeavour.
Automation in itself is not a bad thing though, as the Liser researcher stresses. If used correctly, “it reduces the drudgery of certain jobs, and by reducing the repetitiveness of the tasks, it inevitably generates motivation.” But for this, “automation must be complementary” and “should be used as a tool” instead as a replacement for workers.