Analysing changing labour markets is a key component of the CAREER project. Looking at the evolution of work in recent decades, technology appears to be a key factor that has profoundly reshaped the supply and content of jobs. Just think of our daily lives, where technological devices assist an ever-increasing number of tasks. Interactions with machines are now inevitable, when previously we would have been confronted with a flesh and blood person. The picture below is a striking illustration: while you would expect to find someone behind a counter in this airport information point, it consists only of interactive screens!
Let’s say you are traveling and have a question. The screen will probably direct you to a chatbot that imitates a human-like conversation using artificial intelligence and natural language processing. The chatbot may help you solve the most basic and frequent problems, but it will not be able to handle complex or unforeseen scenarios. If you are not satisfied with the answer given, the machine might put you in touch with a remote agent. This agent then has a very different job than if s/he had been behind a counter. Remote agents don’t have to work on site, they can handle several cases at the same time and they use a rich set of skills that go beyond their job specific knowledge, from mastering ICT tools to managing customer contact at a distance.
This image may confirm what many fear with the spread of technology: that computers and algorithms will soon replace humans at work. However, this concern is recurrent since the Industrial Revolution and the persistence of human work over the centuries suggests that the interaction between machines and humans is more complex, with technology substituting for some tasks while complementing others. If we want to educate the workers of the future, it is important to understand where those complementarities lie precisely. Do workers increasingly need a combination of computer and cognitive skills, as some literature suggests, or should they develop their social skills first, as these are more difficult to automate? Should they be prepared to take on more responsibility now that the machines are handling routine business? Using the novel big data on online job postings, we hope to provide some answers soon!