technology revolution and employment

What is the impact of the technological revolution on employment?

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Will tomorrow's work be more or less interesting, more or less difficult to accomplish - physically, mentally and cognitively - more or less intense, ...? Technological advances enable and induce changes in the way goods and services are produced and distributed, with consequences for employment, work and skill needs. Because they transform the content of occupations, because they themselves bring new ways of communicating, collaborating or coordinating work, and because they are also used by workers both inside and outside the working day, the spread of new technologies also contributes to transforming the way work is done and experienced.
The latest report of the Employment Guidance Council (EGC), published at the end of 2017, provides a diagnosis of the current trends observed in work organisation practices and their link with technological advances and their implications for people's situations at work. Synthesis.
 
Ahe technological revolution is shaking up companies' business models and contributing to transforming uses on an unprecedented scale. It is transforming the ways in which goods and services are produced, distributed and consumed, all in the context of profound social transformations.
While these advances have brought a recurring fear of technological unemployment back into the spotlight, the Employment Guidance Council (EGC) has shown in the first volume of its last report that what is at stake is not so much an end to work as a profound transformation of employment, its structure, its location and the content of jobs.
He pointed out in a second volume that this transformation of the content of jobs leads to a transformation of the skills expected of the working population: alongside the need for expert skills associated with the development and use of emerging technologies, it is new non-digital technical skills as well as "transversal" skills - general digital, cognitive (literacy, numeracy), social and situational - that see their role considerably reinforced.
Because they are transforming the content of jobs, because they themselves bring new ways of communicating, collaborating or coordinating work, because they are also used by workers both inside and outside the workday, current technological advances are also helping to transform the way work is done. The study of this other dimension of the current transformation is the subject of this third volume of the last report.
 
Considered separately for clarity of analysis, all these developments are concomitant and, above all, interdependent. Thus, changes in the volume, structure and location of employment will depend, at least in part, on whether or not the skills of the workforce are in place and on the way in which they are mobilised by companies. Similarly, changes in the way work is done will affect the skills expected of the workforce and employment developments, and vice versa.
 
In addition to the uncertainties that characterise the pace, extent and methods of diffusion of technological advances within firms, there is also the uncertainty resulting from the interdependence of the above-mentioned dimensions. This makes the current developments more complex to analyse and direct, but at the same time multiplies the levers of action to ensure that they are of maximum benefit to both assets and firms.
 
Before looking at the changing ways of working in relation to the deployment of new technologies in the workplace, it should be noted that it is often approached by considering only digital technologies and reducing their impact to the subjects of telework or the growth of collaborative working arrangements at a distance. While these developments are major, because they change people's work situations and require renewed management and supervisory practices, they do not exhaust the subject.
 
Indeed, the current technological revolution is not only about information and communication technologies but also about widening the scope of automation technologies: there are currently significant advances in the fields of autonomous and collaborative robotics, with potentially significant effects on the way production is organised, as well as on aspects of work situations such as physical strain, particularly but not only in industry. Recent progress in the field of artificial intelligence opens up the field of possibilities in terms of tools for ever more varied and complex cognitive activities, with opportunities and risks both from the point of view of companies and employees.
 
Moreover, the effect of technology on work does not only pass through the technological equipment of firms: by modifying their market environment, the technological advances under way contribute to a strengthening of the constraints to which firms are subject. Faced with the need to be ever more innovative and to adapt to the demands of rapidly changing markets where profitability requirements are high, but also because the aspirations of workers and consumers are changing, companies are experimenting with new ways of organising their activity. Often inspired by the practices of startups or digital companies, they are seeking to set up an organization that is less centralized, more collaborative and more open to the outside world. Contributing to a hybridization of forms of work organization between renewed forms of ancient Taylorian practices and flexible forms of organization known as post-Taylorian, these evolutions constitute a challenge both for employees, their managers but also for organizations as a whole.
 

Context of analysis

Since 2016, the WCC has decided to work on the impact of the technological revolution on employment. As part of this work, it has shown that 10% of current jobs present great vulnerabilities in a context of automation, and that 50% should see their content significantly transformed over the next 15 years or so: the challenge is therefore less that of an "end of work" than that of a massive, profound and rapid transformation of the content of jobs. It also identified the levers for job creation and showed that current technological progress should continue to promote skilled and highly skilled employment. It also highlighted the need to encourage the prospects for locating new jobs or relocating jobs in France, made possible by the technological revolution.
 
In this context, the WCC has identified the "competences of tomorrow" which, in fact, are already there today:
- expert skills in "techs", related to the development, deployment and maintenance of technologies;
- new occupational skills arising in the context of job transformation (either digital skills or new occupational skills required by job redesign);
- and, for all working people, three groups of transversal skills (basic numerical; social and situational; cognitive: mastery of the use of numbers and words).
He also showed that the height of the step that must be climbed for the French to have these skills is high. We are in a penultimate situation regarding "tech" skills (80,000 job vacancies in 2020); regarding basic digital skills: 8 % of the French working population have none and 27 % should progress to be more comfortable; regarding cognitive skills: 13 % of the working population do not have basic skills (numeracy and literacy) and 30 % should progress. And this is not counting the deficits on the new occupational skills demanded in the context of job transformation.
Volume 3 of this study constitutes the last part of the work undertaken since the summer of 2016 and is devoted to the organization of work and its modalities, but also to people's work situations.

Scope of analysis

Advances in the fields of artificial intelligence, big data and the Internet of Things are changing business strategies by opening up new possibilities for equipping production and workers, but also by participating in the reconfiguration of competitive, social and cultural environments in a growing number of fields of activity.
Following a first wave of digital innovation up to the 2000s which had already contributed to diversifying and perfecting the technologies available to businesses, at least three major recent trends can be highlighted :
- with their increasingly sophisticated and advanced digitization, a broadening of the scope of automation technologies that allow workers to be replaced in the performance of increasingly varied and complex tasks ;
- an increase in the technical possibilities of support, both for physical and cognitive tasks;
- an ever-increasing networking capacity of all the means and people involved in the value chain.
 
Two major upheavals in the competitive environment brought about by the digital revolution are helping to challenge traditional business models and corporate strategies: the emergence of new entrants or new digital players who are shaking up previously relatively protected sectors, and a shift in the sources of value creation towards the development of services based on massive data processing.
It is in response to these changes in the technological and competitive environment, but also to changes in the aspirations of consumers and workers, that many companies are questioning their positioning and thus their organisation of production and work. This is leading them to experiment with and disseminate within them new organisational methods with significant consequences on the content of jobs and people's work situations.
 
The report finds that the effects of the technological revolution on the content of work and the way people work are so broad and interdependent that they require a comprehensive framework for analysis, both of the firm and of the people at work. Thus :
- it has adopted a broad approach to the organisation of work, i.e. not only the organisation of the company and its areas of activity (outsourcing) but also the organisation of production and the organisation of work in the strict sense (division, coordination, management);
- it considered that it was appropriate to cover not only working conditions in the classical sense of the term, the quality of life at work, but also the content of the work and the skills needed to carry it out. To refer to all these dimensions, the report uses the all-encompassing concept of "work situation" because it is indeed all these dimensions that are impacted by the current technological revolution.

Diagnosis - Modes of work organization

A quantitative study conducted by the WCC shows the link between technological progress and so-called "flexible" modes of organization.
In order to obtain a quantification of the spread of flexible or post-Tylorian organisational practices, but also to objectivise the relationship between these forms of organisation and the use of digital technologies by employees, the Council is producing numerical analyses, based on recent data, showing that there is a link between the digitisation of the company and the use of organisational devices such as decentralisation of decision-making power, autonomous work teams, or just-in-time working, and to test their link, if any, with the use of digital technologies.
 
Comparison of the share of establishments setting up certain "flexible" organisational arrangements according to their degree of digitisation
 
 
Reading: The proportion of establishments having set up autonomous teams among establishments with a high degree of digitization (at least half of employees use digital technologies) is 2.6 times higher than the same proportion among establishments with little digitization (less than 10 % of employees use these technologies).
Source: DARES "Working Conditions" survey, wave 2013, employer component. COE salary.
 
The link between these modes of organization and the deployment of digital technology progresses with the size of the establishment: the larger the establishment, the more significant this link is. But beware: it is only in the industry sector that this "complementary use" is apparent for all the organizational arrangements studied.
 
But there is no technological determinism: the technological revolution goes hand in hand with the coexistence of pre-existing and innovative organisational arrangements, between companies but also within companies themselves.
Thus, at present, we can observe at the same time :
-organizational modes currently presented as "new" but which are often analyzed as deepening and renewing post-Tylorian practices theorized and implemented in the 1980s (several practices are analyzed in the report: horizontal organization, the liberated firm, the learning firm, intrapreneurship, participatory innovation, etc.) ;
-neo-Tylorian practices pushed further by technological advances, which make it possible to go even further in the codification and standardization of tasks, individual or collective performance control (the report produces several case analyses, for example guidance by voice command or voice picking, on-board computer systems, etc.).
Rather than a radical upheaval in organisational methods, we are in fact witnessing a trial and error approach by companies seeking, including through experimentation, the best way to adapt their work organisation to the new economic situation. The result of these experiments is the coexistence of these major - sometimes contradictory - logics within companies themselves.
 
Ambivalent effects of digitization and automation on people's work situations
 
Analysis of the main quantitative and qualitative work
The quantitative work analysed in the report makes it possible, on the basis of the available surveys, to highlight major current trends in work situations that are directly or indirectly linked to the current technological revolution. These include a break-up of the traditional spatio-temporal configurations of work; an intensification of cooperation and collaboration, both internal and external; a transformation of controls (more numerous and above all more indirect); a reduction in physical constraints and an increase in psychological constraints. They show that the use of digital technology leads to the reinforcement of situations of isolation of non-users.
This work most often adopts an approach that is both segmented into sub-dimensions of work situations and targeted in a logic of support for occupational health and safety policies. While this approach is useful, it proves to be partly unsuitable, and in any case insufficient, to capture the diversity of the potential direct or indirect effects of technological advances on work.
 
The WCC Quantitative Study
For this reason, the WCC has sought to obtain a less fragmented and less partial view of developments in work situations for people and the contribution of technology to them. In particular, three cross-cutting indicators, which bring together each of the sub-dimensions of work situations, are selected: interest, complexity and intensity of work.
It shows that the likelihood of judging one's work as interesting, complex and intensive increases with more intensive use of digital technology. This contribution of digital technology is true up to a certain proportion of working time (around 60 to 80 % of time on average, depending on the case). Beyond that, the contribution of digital technology becomes negative for the interest and intensity of the work, and stable for its complexity. These overall findings are verified, with nuances, when this analysis is carried out according to level of qualification, socio-professional category and age.
 
Digital contribution to the interest, complexity and intensity of work
 
 
Reading: In 2013, the probability of doing a very interesting job is 41 % if one does not use the means of computing (fixed or laptop computer, mobile/smartphone, mailbox, Internet, Intranet). This probability increases as the time per week of using these means increases, up to the third quartile, and then decreases again (while remaining above the estimated probability value for the first quartile).
Source: Working Conditions Survey, DARES. Wave 2013. Treatment COE
 
Qualitative analyses agree to show that the effects of technologies on the actual conditions for carrying out work largely depend not only on the objective that the organisation gives them (whether technologies are used to support the carrying out of intense and complex work or to substitute for or control man, or both) and the associated organisational arrangements. They also depend on pre-existing uses and the elements that influence how they are actually used at work (is the technology acceptable? Does it meet a need? Does it make sense to the user?).
 
Organization and work situations: opportunities and risks for companies and assets
 
Technologies can have positive or negative effects for the company and individuals. The positive effects expected a priori are very important but they are not self-evident. Changing the way of producing and working also entails risks for the organisation and people if all the consequences of the introduction of technologies have not been anticipated and thought through.
The report therefore provides an overview of all the possible consequences that can be envisaged at this stage of current technologies - both those that are well identified in the surveys, but also those that are sometimes less so, whether old or more emerging.
Based on the study of concrete cases of introduction of new technologies or organisational changes, the report identifies the conditions favourable to the combined improvement of the company's economic performance and people's work situations. These levers, which depend on a regulatory framework, are primarily of interest to the company in its ability to design, implement and support change.
 
Technological and organizational innovations as potential drivers of performance improvement and innovation capabilities for companies
 
Table: Opportunities and risks of neo-Tylorian and post-Tylorian practices developed by companies to take advantage of the ongoing technological revolution
 
 
Technological and organizational innovations as possible sources of improvement in people's work situations
 
The analysis of technological and organizational innovations shows, both a priori and a posteriori, that their effects are not unambiguous and may even be contradictory:
- enriching the work and making it more interesting, but also in some cases impoverishing it and emptying it of its meaning;
- Reduce physical effort and awkward postures, but also shift stress or increase the level of cognitive attention and the complexity of the work;
- make work more intense - in particular the constraints of rhythm - or give more freedom by encouraging better management of working time by the individual ;
- encourage autonomy but also control;
- make the organisation of work places and working time more flexible ;
- to intensify cooperation and collaboration within the company and with external partners or on the contrary to isolate them.
 
How to make the most of the ongoing technological revolution, for companies and workers, through social dialogue
 
The report identifies conditions under which technological innovation can be integrated into organizational practices that benefit both the firm and the individual. Of course, behind these "mutual benefits" lie trade-offs and transition periods, especially when contrasting work situations coexist within the same company or function.
 
These "favourable conditions", detailed in the report, are the responsibility of different actors. The company of course, at its different levels - management (overall strategy), team (middle management), individual (manager and people), social partners - but also the State - both as legislator to set a framework but also as actor to guide public policies and social actors. The need to rethink management is the subject of an in-depth analysis in the report.
The Council considers that social dialogue is the essential lever to accompany the definition of company strategy and to enable the essential collective appropriation of the issues at stake with all its consequences in terms of changes in professions, work organisation, work content and work situations.
In particular, negotiations on the forward-looking management of jobs and skills, which has proved to be particularly well suited to the issues at stake, must at last find its rightful place. Too often confined to a logic of relatively short-term employment management, it must find its forward-looking vocation to deal with the implications of the digital transformation on the evolution of jobs and professions and on that of skills in relation to the necessary evolution of management methods.
 
In order to take into account both the incessant nature of technological transformation and the context of great uncertainty that accompanies it, it is necessary, on the one hand, to agree on a global and shared strategy taking into consideration both the objectives, conditions and results expected from the transformation and, on the other hand, the multiplicity and diversity of the consequences on the content of the work and the ways in which it is carried out.
The forward-looking management of jobs and skills must, on the other hand, be enriched with tools and indicators for continuous monitoring, adaptation and action. This is essential if we want to anticipate and accompany these ongoing changes in the best possible conditions, even if the task is difficult in a context where the visibility of companies tends to be reduced and where strategic plans see their time horizon shortened. In this respect, one of the first requirements is to better identify the professions and skills of tomorrow. To this end, the industry plays an important role, particularly through industry observatories and forward-looking management of jobs and skills.
 
But this necessary shared reflection on employment and skills does not exhaust the debate. Beyond the forward-looking management of employment and skills, it is also a new dialogue on work, its organisation, its content, its increasingly plasticity that now appears necessary in the company. In this respect, this new dialogue must cover not only the topics already more or less covered by collective bargaining and generally associated with the subject of "quality of life at work", but more broadly the fundamental questions of a deontological or even ethical nature that will govern the future of work and the means of ensuring "good complementarity" between man and machine, which has yet to be organised.
In this area, and in parallel with the "trial and error" approach which accompanies the diffusion of new technologies in many companies and working environments, the added value of social dialogue is also to enable the experimentation and development of tomorrow's regulations and to ensure their effective appropriation by the whole working community.
 
To conclude, this report therefore shows that, beyond the diversity of work situations, technologies are transforming work: the more French employees work in digital environments, the more interesting, complex and intense their work becomes on average. However, when digital technology is used almost full-time, this progression is interrupted or even reversed. However, the work remains more interesting than when it is not digitized.
All in all, technological advances are making a real difference in companies, but are no more associated with a standard organisational model than with a uniform evolution of work situations. They bring opportunities, but also risks, both for companies and assets.
On the basis of this diagnosis, social dialogue constitutes the essential lever to accompany the digital change in companies with all its consequences in terms of the evolution of professions, work organisation, work content and work situations.
 

 
Methodology - Study Information Sources
In a context of great uncertainty, the Council wanted to multiply the sources of information. We have mobilized:
-The results of quantitative and qualitative work in economics, organisational theory and sociology;
-the results of two quantitative studies carried out within the General Secretariat of the Council ;
-analysis of cases drawn from company agreements, hearings of human resources managers or digital transformation in companies ;
-and the responses of the OPCAs to the questionnaires sent to them by the Council.
 
Volumes 1 and 2 of the report are on the website www.coe.gouv.fr
 

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