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ADSK News UK & Ireland

The Future of Work in Europe: A New Approach to Skills and Lifelong Learning is Needed to Turn the Automation Threat into a Workforce Opportunity

Amantur Tynybekov
June 8, 2021

Digital transformation has been dramatically accelerated over the last year as businesses looked to support a newly remote workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the transformation has forced many businesses to innovate, the emergence of more automation in the workplace has presented a new threat to workers and put the microscope once again on the need to upskill and reskill the European workforce as a critical priority.

Autodesk Foundation and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) today publish a new research study, “Good Work Innovations in Europe,” exploring the future of work trends and innovations in Europe. The research looks at how technology and other forces like COVID-19 are impacting workers and shaping the workplace, and offers specific insights into the future of work in construction and manufacturing across the region.

Europe is a diverse continent with vastly different employment levels and industry focuses as you move from country-to-country. Subsequently the threats and opportunities presented by automation are equally diverse.

Southern Europe and Rural Regions Face Greatest Threat from Automation

According to the report, the OECD predicts that 14% of jobs in Europe are at high risk of automation, while a further 32% could experience significant change due to new technologies. The risk to workers varies greatly across the region with Northern Europe and Nordic countries much less automatable than those in Eastern and Southern Europe.

Sweden, Finland, and Norway were found to be least at risk from automation, while the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, and Greece face most challenges owing to low labour market participation and strength of agriculture and other highly automatable industries in the region.

The research also showed great disparities between rural regions and major cities around the threat that automation presents. In almost every European country, capital cities are found in the regions least at-risk of automation while largely agriculture regions are most at-risk.

In the UK, roles around London (8%) the least likely to be impacted by automation and Northern Ireland (11%) the highest. According to the report, this relatively low impact is due to the UK’s already high level of business digitisation (of which it scores 35 in the Digital Economy and Society Index) and therefore makes it more likely to be resilient to automation.

Manufacturing and Construction Face Different Future of Work Challenges

In terms of industries, workers in manufacturing and agriculture are most at risk from automation in Europe, while those least at-risk include both hi-tech sectors such as computer programming as well as hi-touch sectors such as education.

The report found that manufacturing faced a greater chance of automated solutions making it into the workplace, but that it didn’t automatically translate as a threat to workers, with a range of manufacturing roles – including operators, technicians, and production managers – expected to oversee robots and a broader range of automated processes.

Construction is facing a lower automation risk than the manufacturing sector, primarily because activities are less repetitive and outputs more customised. The transformation in construction in Europe encompasses many different approaches, including the automation of physical tasks, and the digitisation and automation of design, planning, and management procedures. Bricklaying robots, drones and autonomous vehicles used for surveying, monitoring and transportation are becoming more prevalent on building sites in the European market.

In both industries, the emergence of automation puts a finer point on the need for better training and dedicated upskilling and reskilling initiatives to equip workers for success and enable them to work effectively alongside automated solutions.

The Green Jobs Revolution in the UK

Additionally, the report highlights the rise of the greens job revolution, calling out the Local Government Association (LGA) estimation that as many as 700,000 jobs could be created in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy in the UK, rising to over 1.2m by 2050 – with many jobs in the construction and manufacturing. And according to the European Investment Bank, any job losses resulting from this green revolution will be concentrated to traditional industries such as fossil fuel extraction and automotive.

Impact of COVID-19 and Preparing for Jobs of the Future

Thanks to its potential for facilitating contactless interactions and alleviating both manpower and cost pressures, the adoption of automation accelerated in Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic. While much of the relief provided by government has focused on worker benefits, the report identifies several promising innovations in skills, training and lifelong learning to help workers to prepare for the jobs of the future. These include:

  • Online learning: New ways to think about online learning including Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other tools that offer learners a flexible, modular approach to upskilling and reskilling.
  • Technology bootcamps: Programmes that teach people digital skills in an accelerated format and connect them with employment opportunities.
  • Digital credentials and skills profiles: New approaches to recognise and validate skills, including those developed through on-the-job and informal learning.

The RSA has been at the forefront of significant social impact for over 250 years and shares a vision for the future of work with Autodesk – to ensure that everyone, regardless of background or starting point, can pursue good work in this age of technological change.

At Autodesk, our perspective is that the emergence of automation will provide opportunity if we put people at the heart of the process and equip them with the skills they need to thrive in a new era of technology.

Creating that opportunity requires a coordinated effort between the UK Government, education, private sector organisations and the workers themselves. It also needs new approaches to skills development, training, and lifelong learning to position workers to succeed.

Europe is a diverse region and the automation related challenges facing individual countries are as unique as the countries themselves. Regardless of location, however, the focus must squarely remain on a cohesive partnership between all stakeholders to ensure the workers are equipped to succeed. 

To read the full “Good Work Innovations in Europe” report, head here.

Amantur Tynybekov

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