| Tæt på videnskaben

Half of today's jobs will disappear in a few years

A possible solution to the challenges of the labour market of the future may be to reduce working hours, says professor and labour market researcher Bent Greve.
Researcher Bent Greve
Photo: Uffe Weng

Technological development is taking place at lightning speed and within a few years it will affect the job functions that exist in the labour market.

Half of the job functions we know today will be gone in 10-15 years. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be half as many jobs compared to today. But it means that many people will have to find a different type of job than before, says labour market researcher at RUC, Bent Greve.

In his new book, “Technology and the Future of Work”, he points out that any type of job that can be split into small, repetitive units can be automated. To the extent that IT can be used to perform a task, people will not be required to sit and perform the same tasks to the same extent as we have been used to.

"Clearly, technology used cleverly can free up resources for other work, but in some cases, there is a risk that there will be no other work" he says.

Robots will take over the traditional jobs in warehouses, shops and hotels, and those with the shortest educations and those who are unskilled will be the hardest hit, predicts the researcher.

"There is much to suggest that what was previously called the “cuckoo-in-the-nest effect” still applies. Those with the least education are easier to push out of the nest - than those who have more education. Those with a longer education can push out the others” he says.

The highly educated will not escape   

But it is not only unskilled workers and those with limited education whose job functions are threatened. It also involves people with higher education.

For example, it was previously lawyers who were asked to investigate the legal situation in a given area to find the best answer to specific legal issues.

"In future, we will see this process being handled by a computer, faster and more accurately, if it is fed the right information. It can store all the documents and search across the documents at a much greater speed than lawyers and clerks can achieve” explains Bent Greve.

In the field of medicine too, people will increasingly self-medicate and use rehabilitation programmes for themselves. It is also being examined in this field, whether other methods can be used that are cheaper and better for society, as well as for the individual citizen.

This means that the highly educated, to a greater extent than previously, will need to have both continuing and further education and training in order to be able to cope in the future labour market. Traditional professional skills will no longer suffice, they will also need to possess digital and technological understanding.

"There will be other skills that will be required in order to navigate the labour market of the future" says Bent Greve.

Polarization in society

Changes in future job functions could have major consequences for the welfare state, he predicts:

"If we want to avoid the risk of increasing polarization in society, we need to consider what living standards people actually need and how we can finance it. But the ability to finance it will be more difficult if an ever-increasing group of people are more or less permanently excluded from the labour market” says Bent Greve.
The researcher believes that the polarization will be between those who are a core part of the labour market, and those who are outside:

"There is a risk that economic inequality in society will increase significantly over the coming years. Increasing economic inequality puts a strain on the way society works, including, for example, on public health spending” explains Bent Greve, who fears that the welfare state is not ready for these challenges:

"There are several reasons why we are not prepared for it. Partly, the changes are more pronounced than we have seen before. And partly, the changes are so enormous and occurring so rapidly that we have not fully been able to anticipate them” says the researcher.

We need to work fewer hours  

In the book “Technology and the Future of Work”, Bent Greve presents a number of suggestions on how to tackle the challenges in the labour market:

"We should probably accept that we should not work as much as we do today. There is no need for everyone to work as many hours per week as today. We need to gradually reduce our working hours. It's not something we can do quickly. It takes time” says the researcher, and continues:

"There will be no shortage of labour in the coming years. There will continue to be a smaller surplus of labour, but it may grow in step with technological developments. We need to think about how we can divide the work better than we do today, because these technological changes are going to happen. My estimate is that we will have to reduce working hours gradually over the next 15-20 years” he concludes.

Bent Greve teaches at Social Science and Policy and Administration at the Department of Social Sciences and Business, including courses on the challenges of the welfare state.