As Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly penetrating all aspects of our lives, many of us are wondering what impact it will have on jobs in Europe.

Published 2 August 2017
Updated 2 August 2017

 

brown wooden signboard shaped like arrrow with skills written in white

This is a guest blog post written by Dr.Kristina Dervojeda,Senior manager, Innovation and Development at PwC, Netherlands.

This challenging issue of the impact of Internet of Things (IoT) on jobs in Europe was recently considered in detail by PwC in a study commissioned by the European Commission on "Cross-cutting business models for IoT” for DG CONNECT of the European Commission (complete report will be available last quarter of 2017). The study focusses on existing and possible IoT cross-cutting business models and their implementation in Europe.

The key findings were presented at the Net Futures 2017 conference held in Brussels on 28 June 2017. I had the honour of presenting aspects related to social impact of IoT cross-cutting business models. There was a lot of interest from participants and a lively discussion took place, which confirmed that this issue is clearly occupying the minds of the broader public. Issues raised looked at the consequences of job automation for low vs. highly skilled jobs, the need to reskill growing numbers of people with out-of-date education and skills, and the implications for the career choices of children.

So how will IoT impact our jobs? A short answer would be ‘it depends’. While some jobs are at risk of extinction, many jobs will undergo a considerable evolution, and new jobs will also emerge. What is certain is that every single job will be affected. To understand how, we will need to distinguish between quantitative and qualitative impacts.

Capturing the uncapturable

Trying to put a number on the social impact of IoT itself would be an unreasonable exercise. It is closely intertwined with the impacts of other socio-economic, political and technological developments. Those include rapid urbanisation, new energy supplies, climate change, sharing economy, artificial intelligence, ageing societies, geopolitical volatility and many others.

The World Economic Forum predicted that during the Fourth Industrial Revolution, about 7.1 million jobs will be lost in 15 economic areas from 2015 to 2020. Most jobs that are at risk of disappearance are white-collar office and administration-related. This is in contrast to the widespread belief that low-skilled jobs will be affected most. At the same time, a growth in demand is expected in jobs related to business and financial operations, management, and computer and mathematical roles, among others. These areas are expected to create 2.1 million additional jobs in the same time period.

Changing the very nature of jobs

Existing estimates suggest that 45% of work activities could be automated using already demonstrated technology. In addition, it is also no longer the case that only routine activities are susceptible to automation. The jobs that are less likely to be automated are the ones relying on specific human attributes that are not easy to replace by machines, such as creativity, intuitiveness and empathy. Have you ever considered how often you use these attributes in your own job?

IoT also makes it possible for workers to be monitored to prevent injury from falls, overexertion, heavy machinery and other dangers. Examples of related products include Snickers’ Work Trousers, General Electric’s Smart Helmets and Fujitsu’s head-mounted displays, wristbands and badges. Here IoT literally becomes a life saver.

Companies also increasingly use IoT to gather data about their employees’ activities in the workplace. That data can help companies adjust policies and optimise their work spaces. Enlighted, Softweb Solutions and Humanyze are all examples of companies offering related products. At the same time, employers will also have to properly defend their employees’ privacy and secure their networks against hackers. Would you feel comfortable knowing that you are constantly monitored at work (and hopefully only at work)?

Finally, C-level executives will have to master new management areas, specifically with an ability to find the best, fastest, and most efficient ways to put the new technology to use in their companies. They will need to look for new ways to justify their existence, as iCEOs and AI company directors have already arrived.

What should Europe do to stay ahead

Governments, companies and educational institutions need to fundamentally change their approach to education, skills and employment, as well as the way they work with each other. In our report, we provide a detailed overview of specific measures that need to be put in place.

I would like to invite all of you to join the conversation on the future of work and to make sure it does not stop at just words. We need solutions that improve work environments, increase employment opportunities, and close the gap between supply and demand of skills. The future is here. The future is us!