Futuribles Journal n° 421

Économie, emploi - Entreprises, travail

New Technological Waves and Employment: A Critical Analysis of Studies of Job Destruction

With each successive wave of technical innovation, societies have asked themselves what the impact will be on employment. This was true of mechanization, then of industrialization. It is the turn now of information technologies, which have revolutionized our ways of living and working at a frantic pace in recent decades. Robotics, automation, digitization, the rise of artificial intelligence — current advances have reignited the debates around the possible replacement of human beings by machines in many sectors of activity.

Nevertheless, as Marie-Claire Carrère-Gée highlights here, analyses of this subject have not always used the same approach and have sometimes confined themselves to job destruction without looking at the job creation ensuing from these technological changes. And they do not always take into account the diversity of tasks within the occupations concerned. All in all, the debate on this question is seldom well-framed. This is why the French Employment Orientation Board (Conseil d’orientation pour l’emploi) has looked into the question of the real impact of this new technological wave on employment, basing their investigation not on an analysis by occupation (which is the standpoint most often adopted in recent studies) but on what employees (in this instance, French ones) actually do in their current jobs. The findings are, as this article points out, that, though a small fraction of jobs (less than 10%) are indeed threatened with disappearance by automation and digital technology, the great majority of occupations will end up being transformed, and the structure of employment will definitely shift in the direction of skilled work. More generally, Marie-Claire Carrère-Gée shows it is essential to take an overall view, looking both at the content of jobs and the way they might evolve and complexify as a result of automation, and also at the new needs in terms of employment that will be generated by that evolution.