Future of Work in figures


Expect substitution for certain kinds of jobs 

Technological change has meant, on the one hand, job losses due to substitution of human labour with machines. On the other hand, technological change also brought direct and indirect job creation as machines require building and maintenance, more wealth is created and new markets are opened. The adoption of technology changes the nature of the tasks entailed by jobs.

Though technological change is typically thought of as automation (the replacement of tasks carried out by humans by machines), it also comprises changes in the efficiency of productive processes (e.g. communication) which can accelerate other large-scale processes affecting employment (e.g. outsourcing, offshoring, globalisation).

The impact of technological change on employment and jobs is biased towards certain types of skills: routine tasks that are easily programmable and non-person-to-person interactions are most affected. Person-to-person services and occupations relying more on creativity, context adaptability, task discretion, social skills and tacit cognitive capacities have been less affected.

Though some studies argue that 47% of US employment is subject to substitution (39% in Germany, 35% in the UK) (Frey and Osborne 2013), others put this figure at 12% (9% in Germany) (ZEW, 2015). The assumptions of what tasks are replaceable are key, but the undisputed fact is that the occupational structure will change and the tasks required to carry out jobs will also change. Substitution may mean the destruction of certain jobs, but not the destruction of employment.


Demand for skills 
Growth (%) 1995/98-2010


Demand for skills

Source: OECD (2015). In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All, OECD Publishing.


Index of changing work tasks in the USA
Index value: 1960 = 50 

Changing work tasks in the USA

Source: Levy and Murnane (2013), Dancing with Robots: Human Skills for Computerized Work, Third Way


But not substitution of overall employment

Skill-biased and routine-biased technical change (as well as the possibilities offered by technology to offshore and outsource) has changed the occupational structure of our economies and the types of skills needed but not the aggregate demand for labour.


Employment to population ratio
Percentage of the working-age population (aged 15/16-64)


Employment to population ratio

Note: 1992 instead of 1991 for Brazil and Russia, 2013 instead of 2014 for Brazil.
Source: OECD Labour Force Statistics Database


Expect changes to how existing jobs are carried out: ICT in the workplace

As digital technologies enter the workplace, the tasks involved in each job change – Today, all but two occupations in the USA require use of ICT. Yet more than half of adults do not have the skills to fulfil simple problem-solving tasks in technology-rich environments.


Problem-solving in Tech-Rich Environments
Percentage of the working-age population (aged 15/16-64)


Problem-solving in tech-rich environments

Source: OECD (2013), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills , OECD Publishing.  



Expect changes to how existing jobs are carried out: Organisational change

Digitisation also has an impact within jobs. The penetration of digital technologies and the Internet in practically all firms have changed the tasks and the skills involved in carrying out a particular job. 

IT technologies have changed the skillset required in the workplace and will require continuous skill adaptation as new technologies are adopted (Spitz-Oener, 2006; Bessen 2015). Their dynamism makes adaptation a constant as software and hardware updates and new are introduced. It also requires continuous learning, learning by doing. In fact, the gap between the 90th and median wage in computerised occupations has grown (in non-computerised it hasn’t) signalling that computerised jobs increasingly reward skill updating and adaptation (Bessen 2015). Skill policies should promote employee mobility, recognition of informal learning and work experience (Bessen, 2015).

It is important to promote a learning culture in the workplace and for firms to organise themselves along the lines of a learning organisation to become better adaptable to changes in skill demand. The challenge is also for workers to continuously adapt to changing skill demands.


Percentage of workers who reported substantial restructuring or reorganisation in their current workplace
during the previous three years that affected their work, 2010 

How existing jobs are carried out

Source: OECD (2013), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills , OECD Publishing.


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