Robots put five million jobs at risk

Predictions abound as to how many jobs will be replaced by machines in the next few years Keystone

Some five million jobs could disappear worldwide in the next five years as a result of changing working methods, a World Economic Forum (WEF) report has forecast. The so-called fourth industrial revolution has been blamed for the threat to jobs.

This content was published on January 18, 2016 minutes

The WEF Future of Jobs report predicts 7.1 million redundancies by 2021, mainly in the fields of management and administration, particularly in the healthcare sector. The report, published on Monday, sees 2.1 million new positions being created for computer programmers and engineers, but this still leaves a substantial gap.

The fourth industrial revolution – or Industry 4.0 – involves the increasing use of robots, big data and artificial intelligence in all aspects of the economy.

“Without urgent and targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with futureproof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base,” WEF founder Klaus Schwab says in the report.

Unemployment is also being seen as a rising threat in Switzerland. The rate of unemployment rose 0.1% in 2015, to 3.3%, and is tipped to peak at 3.6% this year. The recent announcement of 1,300 jobs cuts at former Alstom factories in Switzerland has alarmed unions.

A Deloitte report released last year warned that half of all current jobs in Switzerland could be wiped out by Industry 4.0, although the publication did say that some of these losses would be compensated by new positions being created.

Strong franc

Another cause of employment concerns in Switzerland is the strength of the franc, which rose around 10% against the euro after the Swiss National Bank (SNB) ditched its exchange rate cap a year ago.

At the weekend, the lobby group for electrical engineers, the makers of fine tools and machinery, Swissmem, warned of more job cuts among its member companies this year. Swissmen President Hans Hess told the newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag that another 10,000 jobs could be lost in 2016 (echoing the number in 2015) because Swiss companies’ costs are so much higher than those of European competitors.

Next year, the government will enact new measures to improve training in the workplace. But on Monday the Employee’s Association Travail Suisse criticized the scheme, saying it places the responsibility for staying up-to-date in new work practices on the shoulders of workers.

At a press conference, Travail Suisse said it expected employers to take their share of responsibility for keeping staff trained throughout their careers. The organisation said it would set up a “Good Work Barometer” to check that companies were implementing good training policies.

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