Guest blog: Yvonne Sonsino, Partner, Mercer – Robots and your jobs – this time an age related story

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I don’t know about you, but personally I have come full circle with scaremonger stories about how at risk from robots my job is. At first, the headlines were highly disconcerting.

Then I moved onto deeper analysis, assessed the likelihood in more detail and saw that it would be a pretty expensive robot if it were to replace me entirely, and depending on the value of the tasks I do, it may never be economically viable to replace me altogether.

Maybe some tasks would disappear sooner, not such a bad thing especially if they are 3D: deadly, dull or dangerous, you might think. A sigh of relief. More recent research homes in on actual jobs and tasks most at risk however, and concludes that there is far more uncertainty than certainty. So let’s deal with what we know and plan carefully for what we don’t. There is definitely some fear in the uncertainty, hence my full circle.

But what of linking this macro trend to one that readers of the ILC web pages are more engrossed in, that of the ageing workforce? Mercer’s latest paper, The Twin Trends of Aging and Automation, does exactly this. And on paper, it feels like we have a temporary problem. In developed markets where working age population sizes are declining, automation of more tasks and jobs is an essential solution, and one which we recommend when advising companies on labour shortage strategies.

That is, if you do not want to relocate your business entirely, which is strategy number two. But we have already established that automation is expensive, and potentially can be slow to achieve. Moving your business to follow labour supply does not come cheaply either.

So how do we bridge the gap between labour force shortages until automation restores the equilibrium in productivity, assuming a perfect supply-demand equation could ever be achieved? Strategy number three is to hire more older workers to bridge the gap. This piece of research however shows that the jobs and tasks most at risk of automation, are those which are performed on the whole by older workers.

The complex interplay of these two trends is discussed in the new report, and although automation has the potential to offset the productivity fallouts of societal ageing, it can also suppress labour opportunities for older workers. We explore the average risk of automation to older workers in 15 countries and look at trends in many more. The conclusions: welfare spending, financial support, together with training and education will be key to preventing the even wider spread of the displacement of older workers.

Without the proper interventions, societies stand to face serious fallouts as a result of these trends. Un and under employment, widening inequalities and serious talent shortages will worsen in countries which do not properly incorporate an older worker strategy into their future work plans.

To find out more about automation, older workers and the future of the labour market register for the 2018 Future of Ageing Conference. Early bird ticket rates end Tuesday, 31st July.

Yvonne Sonsino
Partner, Innovation Leader Europac
Mercer

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