The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released a new study focusing on the possible effects of automation on the working world.
The report was based on jobs data provided by the organisation’s 32-member countries and estimates the risk of automation for individual jobs based on a survey of adult skills.
According to the study, the occupational groups that have the highest probability of becoming automated typically do not require specific skills or training.
These include food preparation assistants, assemblers, labourers, refuse workers, cleaners and helpers.
The next category are workers with at least some training, and what they have in common is that large part of their job content is interacting with machines – mainly in the manufacturing sector – including: machine operators, drivers and mobile plant operators, workers in the processing industry, skilled agricultural workers, metal and machine workers etc.
At the other end of the spectrum are occupations that require high level of education and training and which involve high degree of social interaction, creativity, problem-solving and caring for others. This end is populated by all sorts of professionals and managers, but also by personal care workers.
“Overall, despite recurrent arguments that the current wave of automation will adversely affect selected highly skilled occupations, this prediction is not supported, by the framework of engineering bottlenecks,” the report found.
“Indeed, with the exception of some relatively low-skilled jobs – notably, personal care workers – the findings here suggest a rather monotonic decrease in the risk of automation as a function of skill level.”
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South Africa at risk?
According to a report published by global consultancy Accenture in January, re-skilling may ultimately be the deciding factor as to whether the South African economy survives a major wave of automation.
The report found that 35% of all jobs in South Africa are currently at risk of total automation, meaning machines can perform 75% of the activities that make up these jobs.
Accenture said that both blue and white-collar jobs are at risk in the country.
“The jobs of clerks, cashiers, tellers, construction-, mining- and maintenance workers all fall into this category,” it said.
Hard-to-automate jobs (those with a lower risk of automation) include tasks like influencing people, teaching people, programming, real-time discussions, advising people, negotiating and cooperating with co-workers, Accenture said.
However Accenture found that if South Africa can double the pace at which its workforce acquires skills relevant for human-machine collaboration (re-skilling), it can reduce the number of jobs at risk from 20% (3.5 million jobs) in 2025 to just 14% (2.5 million).