AI and automation are transforming the world of work in unprecedented ways. These technologies are not only enhancing productivity, efficiency, and innovation, but also creating new opportunities for economic growth, social good, and human development.
However, they also pose significant risks and challenges for workers, employers, policy makers, and society at large. How will these technologies affect the skills, roles, and organizations of the future? What are the implications for workers’ well-being, income distribution, and social cohesion? How can we ensure that AI and automation are used in a responsible and inclusive manner that benefits everyone? These are some of the questions that this article will explore.
The impact on skills demand and supply
One of the most obvious and important effects of AI and automation is the change in the skills required of human workers across different sectors and occupations.
According to a report by McKinsey, by 2030, the demand for technological skills, such as programming, data analysis, and digital literacy, will increase by 55%, while the demand for social and emotional skills, such as communication, creativity, and empathy, will increase by 24%.
On the other hand, the demand for basic cognitive skills, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, will decline by 15%, and the demand for physical and manual skills, such as machinery operation, assembly, and craft, will decline by 14%.
These skill shifts will have significant implications for the supply of workers who can meet the changing demand. The education system will need to adapt to the new skill requirements and provide relevant and quality learning opportunities for students and workers. The labor market will need to facilitate the matching of workers with suitable jobs and offer incentives for reskilling and upskilling. The social norms and expectations will need to evolve to reflect the value and dignity of different types of work and skills.
The impact on work organization and design
Another major effect of AI and automation is the transformation of how work is organized within organizations. These technologies enable new forms of work arrangements, such as remote work, gig work, platform work, etc. Remote work allows workers to perform their tasks from anywhere, anytime, and with anyone, using digital tools and platforms.
Gig work allows workers to take on short-term, flexible, and independent projects, often through online platforms that connect them with clients. Platform work allows workers to offer or access various services, such as transportation, delivery, accommodation, etc., through digital platforms that facilitate the transactions.
These new work arrangements have various implications for work design principles, such as autonomy, flexibility, collaboration, etc. On the one hand, they can offer workers more freedom, choice, and control over their work, as well as more opportunities for learning, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
On the other hand, they can also pose challenges for workers’ security, stability, and identity, as well as for their social and professional relationships. Moreover, they can raise ethical and legal issues, such as the rights and responsibilities of workers, employers, and platforms, the quality and safety of work, the accountability and transparency of algorithms, etc.
The impact on worker well-being and outcomes
A third major effect of AI and automation is the influence on workers’ well-being and outcomes in terms of health, happiness, income security, career development opportunities, etc.
These technologies can have both positive and negative impacts on workers’ conditions, depending on various factors, such as the characteristics of the job, the tasks, the quality of the work, the feedback, the social support, etc. For example, AI and automation can improve workers’ well-being and outcomes by:
- Reducing the workload, stress, and fatigue of workers, by taking over the routine, repetitive, and hazardous tasks, and allowing workers to focus on the more complex, creative, and meaningful tasks.
- Enhancing the performance, productivity, and quality of workers, by providing them with better tools, data, and insights, and enabling them to collaborate more effectively and efficiently with other workers and machines.
- Increasing the income, security, and mobility of workers, by creating new jobs, industries, and markets, and by offering workers more flexibility, diversity, and options for their work and career paths.
However, AI and automation can also worsen workers’ well-being and outcomes by:
- Displacing, replacing, or devaluing workers, by making their skills, roles, or occupations obsolete, redundant, or less competitive, and by reducing their bargaining power, wages, or benefits.
- Isolating, alienating, or exploiting workers, by reducing their social interactions, connections, or belonging, and by increasing their surveillance, monitoring, or manipulation, by employers, platforms, or algorithms.
- Exposing, harming, or discriminating workers, by creating new risks, hazards, or errors, and by amplifying existing biases, inequalities, or injustices, in the workplace or society.
AI and automation are reshaping the future of work in profound ways that require careful consideration from all stakeholders involved. To harness its potential while minimizing its risks, we need to adopt a holistic approach that balances technological innovation with human values, social justice, environmental sustainability, etc. Some possible actions include:
- Investing in education, lifelong learning, reskilling, and upskilling, to equip workers with the relevant and adaptable skills for the future of work.
- Providing adequate social protection, safety nets, health care, and mental health support, to ensure workers’ security, stability, and well-being in the face of uncertainty and change.
- Enhancing worker voice, participation, and representation, to empower workers to have a say and a stake in the decisions that affect their work and lives.
- Fostering inclusive, diverse, and equitable growth, to ensure that the benefits and costs of AI and automation are shared fairly and equitably among workers, employers, and society.
- Promoting ethical, responsible, and accountable use, governance, and regulation of AI and automation, to ensure that these technologies are aligned with human rights, values, and norms, and that they serve the public interest and the common good.