When you reading this the Dutch government just concluded a congress about the robotization of the labour market. The congress is organized by the Dutch vice-prime minister (Labour Party) and initiated by a Labour Party think tank. That they take the initiative is not surprising. After all this party finds it's roots in the “working” class. But traditional boundaries are of no use when the future labour market is discussed. It is something that affects all of us, and if you think you are safe think again. The future is already upon you.

The people who are organizing the congress are worried. Worried that the current working population is caught unprepared. Worried that a mismatch in working skills will keep unemployment high. Estimates presented at the congress say that between 28 and 42 percent of the working population in the Netherlands will be affected. What the figures for Finland would be I can only guess, but since Finland and the Netherlands are comparable in many ways it seems likely that it will be the same. Can it affect you? You can check! On this link you find a 72 page report (OOPS!). From page 58 on you find a table with occupations that can be affected. Zero stands for no effect, One for certain disappearance.

What are the working skills of the future? Are you a wine critic? Then your job is in danger! Do we need to give everyone a higher education? Well, you might wish that the answer was a simple as that. Technology is both a threat and blessing. It depends on how this is handled (here you find a TED talk about that)

Starting with the agricultural sector you might find that the number of farms and related jobs has gone down over the last two centuries. There is no reason to assume that this trend will stop. Farms are getting bigger and managed professionally by a few people and laborious tasks are getting done by robots. Even those that require intelligence can processed more efficiently by robots.

I really recommend that you click this video to play. It highlights the equation "Technology gets better, cheaper, and faster at a rate biology can't match" + "Economics always wins" = "Automation is inevitable." in a very compelling way.

People who work in administration or medical professions are likely to be cut out from the job. There is now already a big tendency to cut in the overhead. After all computers are good with numbers and analysis. The painstaking checking of an accountant is better done by computers. Analysis of strange occurrences can be done with standard statistics. There the computer wins from the medic or the accountant. The diagnostics is usually much better because a computer has a huge database to compare with.

Can a robot walk the stairs to bring a cup of tea to an elderly lady”

Probably not. But there other scenarios. One is that already now nurses that visiting people homes are not allowed to do anything extra. They can't bring a cup of tea anymore. It is up to you or your relative. Instead they are transformed into a visiting cleaning woman. Once a week she comes. Cleaning is easy to automate. Now already there are small robots that can clean your house as efficient as she does. So in the next phase she is fired and substituted by that ever more sophisticated cleaner robot. You will get a repairman visiting you when the robot diagnostics detect a malfunction, but that nice cup of tea with lovely company is forever gone.

You are an administrative worker processing the incoming bills from the suppliers. They are still send by postal mail, but already now your company is requiring them to be in a certain format “so they can be paid properly”. Next year your company decides to open an email address where bills have to be send encrypted and digitally signed in that certain format. The computer can read them into the administrative system now without you touching them. Your manager can spend an hour a week to approve or reject bills. If there is something out of ordinary the system will alert him. The need for your job is over.

You are a doctor working at the local health care institute. When a patient has an illness you enter the symptoms into the computer. An expert system gives you a list of possible diseases ranked according to probability of occurrence. It also informs you which medicine are suitable and which are not (depending on the patient's medical history). You are now already doing this and are aware that you rarely deviate from the computers advice. In fact the nurse next door could do what you are doing if she was trained in doing more diagnostics. So next year that is exactly what is happening. You thinking about going back to university to do research, but there are not great many places and you will miss the contact with the patients.

So there it is. Robotization will hit everyone. Not just the low educated, but also those have learned a profession. The middle class will suffer a lot from this development. The economist warns that “median wages are likely to remain stagnant for some time and income gaps are likely to widen”. It then goes on to say

Anger about rising inequality is bound to grow, but politicians will find it hard to address the problem. Shunning progress would be as futile now as the Luddites’ protests against mechanised looms were in the 1810s, because any country that tried to stop would be left behind by competitors eager to embrace new technology. The freedom to raise taxes on the rich to punitive levels will be similarly constrained by the mobility of capital and highly skilled labour.”

That is a daunting prospect, but it's not too late to do something about it. We need to prepare. That's what the congress was for. And that's also something I would like to see in Finland. Robotization can bring short term benefits to combat the effects of a graying population, but in the mid-term we have to prepare our children for a changing world.

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