StatCan warns COVID-19 may accelerate automation in the workplace
Women and men both face the risk of automation in the workplace dating back to 2016, but their risk levels differ, according to a new study released by Statistics Canada (StatCan).
Women and men were equally likely (about 11 per cent) to face a high risk of automation-related job transformation. However, women (44.4 per cent) were more likely than men (34.8 per cent) to face a moderate to high risk.
Automation risk estimates are produced by various worker and firm characteristics and account for 25 different tasks that may vary within the same occupation, such as instructing, selling products or services, solving problems or performing physical work. A high risk of automation-related job transformation is defined as a probability of 70 per cent or more, while a moderate to high risk is defined as a probability of 50 per cent or more.
“The gap in the proportion of women and men facing a moderate to high risk of automation-related job transformation could not be explained by gender differences in personal and work characteristics, such as age, education, industry and occupation. The gap may indicate that women and men perform different tasks that are not taken into account in the data,” says StatCan.
“In fact, previous research has shown that women were more likely than men in the same occupation to report performing repetitive tasks, and this could put them at greater risk of automation-related job transformation.”
While 33.9 per cent of men aged 55 or older faced a moderate to high risk, 58.6 per cent of their female counterparts faced a similar risk. Also, a larger share of women with no post-secondary qualifications faced a moderate to high risk than their male counterparts, at 75.8 per cent and 60.0 per cent, respectively.
Women who reported having a disability, who were not in a union or covered by a collective bargaining agreement, or who worked in a small firm (with 10 or fewer employees) were also more likely than their male counterparts to face a moderate to high risk of automation-related job transformation, according to the report.
“It is important to note that these risk estimates are largely based on the technological feasibility of automating job tasks. There are several reasons why employers may not immediately replace humans with robots, even if it is technologically feasible to do so. These reasons include financial, legal and demand-side factors, among others,” says StatCan. “For this reason, a high risk of automation does not necessarily imply a high risk of job loss.”
However, “these results were estimated prior to COVID-19, which may accelerate automation in the workplace.”
Just three or four years ago, AI was there to just help solve issues like candidate filtering and ranking, says Corey Shaw, AVP talent acquisition at Canada Life in Toronto. But today, the technology is much more integrated into a recruiter’s suite of tools, he says.
Effects on income
In 2019, a Harvard Business Review report noted that “the real impact of automation is on income and time spent unemployed.”
After a spike, tenured workers cumulatively lose about 3,800 Euros in wage and salary earnings over five years on average, equivalent to about nine per cent of one year’s income. Meanwhile, recent hires lose about three per cent of one year’s income, found the study, based on data from 2000-16 for 36,000 firms in the Netherlands covering about five million workers.
The main reason for these losses is that workers who leave the firm experience longer periods of non-employment.
If they leave, incumbent workers are employed 43 fewer days over five years following the automation event. Only about 12 per cent of these losses are made up by unemployment, welfare, or disability payments, which is comparable to what workers receive after a mass layoff, according to the report.
Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of Canada’s industrial companies expect to invest less than five per cent of annual revenue on digital technology, according to a KPMG report in February.