ILO research predicts the ripple effects of GenAI are poised to resonate across a broad spectrum of occupations, leading to potential shifts within global labour markets
In recent years, the proliferation of Generative AI (GenAI) has stirred a global debate concerning its impact on employment, particularly among white-collar and knowledge-based workers. The International Labour Organization’s Working Paper 96, explored through a research brief by PawełGmyrek, Janine Berg, and David Bescond, dives into this narrative, providing a granular analysis on the occupational exposure to GenAI, and elucidating the potential shifts within global labour markets.
A Pivot, Not a Precipice
The research dispels the dystopian notion of an employment apocalypse but underscores a significant shift. Unlike the often-feared scenario of rampant automation, the potential for job augmentation, where GenAI aids rather than replaces human roles, appears higher across various countries and sectors. While some jobs may still succumb to automation, the overarching theme is a transformation in task structures and occupational roles. The findings urge the need for dedicated policies to manage these transitions effectively, mitigating adverse effects while capitalising on GenAI’s productivity enhancements.
The analysis reveals that the potential for augmentation is 6X greater than it is for automation, meaning that many jobs will be transformed. As a result, workplace consultation and additional regulations are needed to develop safeguards on the appropriate use of technology at the workplace and on the creation of quality employment associated with AI’s development. The objective is to manage transitions so as to minimise the negative effects on individual workers and maximise the productivity benefits of these new technologies.
A Landscape of Varied Impacts
The ripple effects of GenAI are poised to resonate across a broad spectrum of occupations. Clerical jobs, predominantly held by women, are notably vulnerable to automation, highlighting a gendered dimension to GenAI’s impact. The study underscores substantial variations in the effects of automation and augmentation across different income levels and regions, painting a complex picture of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Harnessing Momentum for Proactive Policies
Amidst the growing intrigue surrounding GenAI, especially post the release of ChatGPT in November 2022, the brief urges the harnessing of political and social momentum for both preventive and corrective policy actions. These policies, the authors advocate, should be formulated through collective multi-stakeholder engagement, fostering a dialogue-centric approach with significant roles for governments and social partners.
Policies for a Balanced Technological Transition
The recommendations extend towards ensuring a balanced integration of GenAI in the workplace. Emphasising on the quality of emerging jobs, particularly those involved in AI development processes, the brief calls for an inclusive policy framework. It advocates for a proactive design of regulations through tripartite systems, workplace consultations, investments in digital skills development, and international collaboration, among others.
The “Augmentation” Over “Automation” Narrative
Central to the discussion is the concept of augmentation, where GenAI complements rather than replaces human roles. The potential for augmentation, as per the analysis, is about six times greater than that for automation, indicating a transformative rather than eliminative effect on jobs.
Women workers more at automation risk
The ILO document underscores a notable gendered impact in the unfolding narrative of Generative AI on employment. Particularly, it highlights those clerical jobs, which have a higher representation of women, are significantly exposed to the risk of automation. This exposure presents a potential for a disproportionate negative impact on women in the workforce.
In high-income countries, the gender disparity is pronounced with jobs having high automation potential constituting 8.5% of female employment, compared to 3.9% of male employment. Additionally, across all income groups, women are observed to have a higher share of jobs with high augmentation potential, implying that the transition propelled by GenAI could either disproportionately affect women adversely or, if managed positively, could harbour opportunities for women’s empowerment.
Furthermore, the document advocates for gender-responsive policies in navigating the transitions brought about by GenAI. It urges for considerations that address gender-specific needs in the transition process, hence reflecting a gender-sensitive approach in policy recommendations to mitigate the potential negative effects of Generative AI on the labour markets.
The Big Unknown
While sounding positive, ILO nevertheless underscores “The Big Unknown” to describe a segment of the global workforce that doesn’t fit neatly into the binary classification of automation or augmentation potential but could still be significantly affected by GenAI. This segment comprises about 9.1 percent of global employment, equivalent to 299 million workers, primarily consisting of professionals, technicians, and associate professionals.
These occupations are characterised by high occupational automation scores alongside a wide variance across their component tasks, indicating a mixed potential for both automation and augmentation. Due to the diverse nature of tasks within these jobs, they could either experience transformation through GenAI-enabled augmentation or face substantial displacement through automated substitution.
The “Big Unknown” encapsulates the uncertainty surrounding how GenAI will impact these jobs, as they possess a blend of tasks – some that are easy to automate, and others that are more challenging. This segment underscores a crucial area where the potential effects of GenAI are uncertain, necessitating a thorough examination to ensure proactive policy design and effective management of the impending technological transition.
As GenAI continues its upward trajectory, its potential to reshape the labour landscape is undeniable. The ILO’s research brief offers a nuanced perspective, steering away from alarmist narratives towards a dialogue on managed transitions. The path ahead, laden with policy deliberations and collaborative efforts, holds promise for harnessing GenAI’s potential in a manner that aligns with the broader ethos of decent work and societal well-being.