The best time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining. Just as equally, now is the best time, with labour markets tight in much of the developed world, to prepare for the more challenging years ahead. New technologies are steadily making inroads into jobs that we always assumed would be safe from being automated away. This, added to an increasingly rapid pace of technology development and deployment, is putting policymakers under increasing pressure to come up with suitable policies to reap the benefits of these advances while at the same time avoid their pitfalls.
The Pillars Utrecht workshop “Geography of Industries and Professions in Europe: Diversification Opportunities and Challenges” organized jointly organized by Utrecht University and the Technopolis Group was a great success. We discussed the profound implications of digital automation technologies, such as artificial intelligence and robotics, on regional labour markets. It was attended by more than 50 participants, including scholars, policy makers and industry professionals.
This workshop brought together top-notch non-Pillars researchers and the excellent members of our own project, where we both disseminated and inseminated our research on Digitization, AI and Outcomes for Labour. This far-reaching research agenda is broad, and therefore, the workshop was organized around a handful of themes, bundled into several focused sessions.
Venice Summer Institute, 21 and 22 June 2023
Pillars was written in 2019, submitted in 2020 and awarded at the end of 2020. In digital technology timing, this is an era ago!
Since then, AI has unfolded unprecedently and challenged us even more intriguingly.
Regardless the speed and the shape of these technological advances the main challenge is to predict changes and make sure that labour markets are ready to embrace them.
China and Europe pose a conundrum to each other. Europe squirms uncomfortably between the USA and China in their superpower competition, trying to stay on good terms with both at the same time as minimising any risk of economic or geopolitical fallout. China, in turn, must weigh which partnership to prioritise: its newly minted “no-limits” friendship with Russia, or a closer relationship with Europe as a counterweight to the pressure exerted, and restrictions imposed, on it by the US.
It was the ideal line-up for a workshop to explore the future of work: Pillars hand-in-hand with its partner the ifo Institute and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Munich and Upper Bavaria. The task: to review how data can be leveraged to ascertain not only the state of skills availability, but also which skills will be needed in the future.
At first sight it is a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, it has long been clear that the skills you acquire, say, at university no longer will see you through to the end of your career life: you have to reinvent yourself several times along the way just to stay current. On the other hand, the skills that you learn early in your career will boost your earnings throughout your entire working life.
Policymakers are understandably concerned about the effect of automation technologies on employment and wage levels in their jurisdictions. The effects, however, tend to be quite heterogeneous – and not much is known regarding what drives this heterogeneity. This makes devising the right policies a bit tricky.