Numbers deceive

Numbers deceive

UNI warns against the numerous predictions of job losses and job gains as we move to the digital economy. Not least as numbers can be so deceiving

Every month, if not every week, excellent papers and reports are published predicting massive job losses or the reverse: a zero-sum game as certain jobs will disappear whilst others will be created.

We read these reports and learn a lot from them. From McKinsey's 2017 report "Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation" to OECD's 2018 policy brief Putting faces to the jobs at risk of automation to PwCs fresh out of the press UK Economic Outlook - they all include insightful analysis of suggestive trends.

But - watch the absolute numbers

But one problematic thing transcends many of these analyses: they speak of jobs in absolute numbers. In other words, they assume its positive if a 1000 jobs are lost yet 1000 new jobs are created. Or, they predict that the absolute number of jobs will change by X, Y, or Z amount.

Statistics are oftentimes helpful, but they say absolutely nothing about the quality of the jobs created. Nor about the geography of them, or the skills needed.

A critical voice needed

As UNIs Christina Colclough said at an event in the European Parliament:

We know that the number of precarious jobs that pay under the living wage and/or that offer substandard conditions is on the rise in the digital economy. Whilst these jobs count in the statistics for a job they are hardly worth celebrating and shouldn’t lead to l’assis faire policies ‘because everything will be fine’.

We must remind people of this time and time again. It would be a dangerous route to traverse if politicians and corporations rested back and did nothing. The Urgency of Now prevails, so does the need to put extensive re- and upskilling programmes in place, and so must we all spend time ensuring the Future We Want.