Report

The threat of technological obsolescence on skills in Europe

With between a quarter and two-fifths of jobs at high or medium risk of automation in OECD countries, it is expected that dynamically evolving technologies will render several of workers’ skills obsolete whilst placing a high premium on others.

Indeed, Cedefop’s ESJ survey (Cedefop, 2015) revealed that about a quarter (26%) of adult employees in the EU labour market think that it is moderately likely, and one in five (21%) very likely, that several of their skills will become outdated in the next five years. Close to three in ten (29%) respondents working in the ICT services sector acknowledged that it is very likely to see their skills become outdated in the foreseeable future, while the jobs of employees in financial, insurance and real estate services (24%) and in professional, scientific or technical services (23%) are also at high risk of skills obsolescence.

Combining the information collected as part of Cedefop’s ESJ survey regarding the incidence of past technological change in workplaces, together with the anticipated likelihood of skills becoming outdated, allows for further investigation of the susceptibility of EU jobs to the risk of ‘technological skills obsolescence’, namely the extent to which the skills profiles of jobs are relatively stable or vulnerable to change. About 10% of the jobs of EU employees are found to be at a high risk of technological skill obsolescence. These workers are not only employed in jobs in which they experienced changing technologies in the previous five-year period, but also believe that it is very likely that several of their skills will become outdated in the next five years. A further 11% of EU employees believe that there is a high likelihood of their skills becoming outdated in the medium-term future, although they did not experience recent changes to their workplace technologies. Some 33% saw the technologies used in their workplace change in previous years, but do not anticipate any future change in the skills required. Close to a half (46%) of the workforce has not experienced nor expects any significant modification to their overall skills set.

Figure 3: Share of adult employees at risk of technological skills obsolescence, 2014, EU28

NB: Ranking of countries based on combinations of the share of EU adult employees who either experienced changes to the technologies (machinery, ICT systems) they used in the past five years and/or expect that their skills have a high likelihood of becoming outdated in the next five years. Workers who experience both changing workplace technologies and expected skill obsolescence are classified as being at high risk of ‘technological skills obsolescence’.
Source: Cedefop European skills and jobs survey.

Figure 3 also shows that the threat of technological skills obsolescence seems to be highest in Estonia (23%), Slovenia (21%) and the Czech Republic (19%) as opposed to Germany (6%), the Netherlands (8%), Italy (8%), Austria (8%) and Denmark (8%), but also Malta (5%), Bulgaria (4%) and Luxembourg (3%). Overall, in Luxembourg (59%), Netherlands (56%), France (52%), Germany (50%) and Belgium (50%) more than half of all workers are in jobs relatively immutable to technological skills obsolescence, which is likely to reflect their higher past levels of investment in ICT capital equipment and new technologies.

Table 1: Degree of technological obsolescence affecting skill profiles across jobs, 2014, EU28

Top occupational groups
with changing skills profiles

Top  occupational groups
with stable skills profiles

+ ICT Associate Professionals
+ ICT Professionals
+ Production or specialist services managers
+ Electronic and electronic trades workers
+ Teaching professionals
+ Administrative or commercial managers
+ Science and engineering professionals/associate professionals
+ Health professionals
– Subsistence farmers, fishers or hunters
– Cleaners or helpers
– Food preparation assistants
– Personal services workers
– Personal care workers
– Labourer in mining, construction, manufacturing
– Driver or mobile plant operator
– Agriculture, forestry and fishery labourer
– Protective services worker

NB: Ranking of occupations based on an index of skills stability, derived as the share of EU adult employees who experienced changes to the technologies (machinery, ICT systems) they used in the past five years and expect that their skills have a high likelihood of becoming outdated in the next five years.
Source: Cedefop European skills and jobs survey.

Table 1 also depicts occupations that are mostly susceptible to technological skills obsolescence and those that exhibit a relatively stable skills profile that is least affected by technological change. It is evident that workers employed in ICT, health and engineering-related occupations, together with managers, are more likely to experience changing skills profiles in their jobs, whilst employees in the primary sector and in elementary or personal service occupations are relatively insulated from technological innovation.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at #ESJsurvey INSIGHTS No 8 – Rise of the machines | Cedefop

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