Rapid advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics and other forms of automation technologies have led to a re-emergence of ‘automation anxiety’ and concerns about the future of work. While automation may destroy some jobs, an equal or greater number of jobs will likely be created in the aftermath. In order to assess the impact of this for workers it is necessary to evaluate not just the jobs lost, but also those that are subsequently created.
To-date, technological advancements and other megatrends such as globalisation have reduced employment across advanced economies in sectors such as manufacturing and occupations, predominantly characterised by routine tasks. While the economy has since created enough new jobs to avoid net losses, it has not necessarily been replacing like with like.
We seek to evaluate previous employment adjustments in terms of job quality to understand how impending automation technologies may affect the quality of jobs in the future. We find that the trend of occupational polarisation is likely to continue as routine-biased technological change spreads throughout the economy. We also find that some of the industries and occupations with the lowest risk of automation are more susceptible to lower levels of job quality in Northern Ireland.
The commodification of labour in some of these poor-quality jobs prevents an upward revaluation of this work and thus, making it is unlikely that job quality will improve without some direct policy intervention. In policy terms, an increasing role for trade unions and collective bargaining should be combined with social security support for transitioning workers. A broader focus on skills policy is needed at all levels.