Three unique factors will shape the future of jobs in the “Europe-5”: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK:
- The pandemic. Businesses will continue to grow revenues by digitalising their work processes. More work will be done remotely, and more routine tasks will be automated. Automation is a lever for change to reduce process costs and increase innovation.
- The decline in working-age populations. Europe has one of the oldest working-age populations: by 2040, the Europe-5 will have 20 million fewer people of working age. Southern Europe has one of the lowest fertility rates – Italy and Spain will see the largest declines in the workforce, with 17 to 18 per cent fewer workers in 2040 than in 2021. The Italian government will see the largest challenges: Italian workers will make up just 36 per cent of the country’s population by 2040, down from 42 per cent in 2020.
- The share of routine jobs. More than a third of Europe-5 jobs are routine. Routine tasks follow a precise set of instructions; routine jobs involve little complex thinking, judgment or human interaction and are most at risk from automation. The share of routine jobs is higher in manufacturing-led economies: industry makes up 18 per cent of the German workforce compared with just 9 per cent in the UK.
Automation will become integral to how European governments and employers look at their competitiveness and manage the decline in their working populations over the next 20 years. Productivity-driven automation requires artificial intelligence and the adoption of robotics, but there is still a long way to go. In 2020, only 7 per cent of Europe’s nonfinancial enterprises employing 10 or more people used AI, and less than 3 per cent used big data and machine learning.
Embedding automation in the workplace is challenging in terms of avoiding disproportionally impacting low-skilled workers, who are most at risk of displacement, with low bargaining power. Job polarisation, driven by technological change, globalisation and labour market institutions, is rising: in the UK, 15 per cent of workers in food and accommodation services have zero-hour contracts, a share that has doubled over the past five years. Germany’s “mini-jobs” have increased by 40 per cent over the last 10 years. The DGB (German Trade Union Confederation) wants employers to better collaborate with employees to manage AI system deployments and mitigate worker automation job-loss fears. In Spain, to maintain and enforce worker rights, some judges have ruled that a worker cannot be fired because a company has introduced new software or because a robot is more efficient.
Forrester’s recently published Future Of Jobs Forecast, 2020 To 2040 (Europe-5) forecasts that 25 per cent of Europe-5 jobs are at risk from automation and that 12 million jobs will be lost by 2040. New jobs in the Europe-5, however, will help offset jobs lost to automation: European information worker jobs have grown nine times faster than the European jobs market over the past 10 years, and over the next 20 years, up to nine million new green jobs will be created.
Europe already lacks more than half a million information and communication technology (ICT) professionals. The European Union emphasises the importance of ICT worker skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Schools will need to introduce AI, blockchain and robotics earlier into the curriculum. The need for high-quality global data to develop effective AI tools needs to be counterbalanced by Europe’s focus on data from ethical, trustworthy and sustainable sources. Even though European AI commercialisation significantly lags China and the US, Europe has the potential to create job growth in data regulation and data transparency that inspires consumer confidence in big data.
To counter this decline in workers, retirement ages will increase and lifelong learning will become a key part of professional development. Workers who adapt and continuously learn will more likely thrive; soft skills such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility (something robots are not known for) will complement worker automation tasks and become more sought after.