Technological Progress and Worlds of Work

Digitalisation will have consequences which we would like to be able to already assess today. On the subject of “Technological Progress and Worlds of Work”, the following presents research and results which provide answers to the questions of what the transformation might look like and how we can shape it.

In late 2016, BIBB launched a project on “Polarisation 4.0” to investigate whether or not the study by Frey and Osborne (2013) could be applied to Germany. According to Frey and Osborne, more than half of professional activity in the USA will be replaced by machines, robots and computers at some point in the future. This replacement would primarily affect a so-called “intermediate qualification level”. Simply applied to Germany, this would mean that two thirds of the labour force—i.e. those who are gainfully employed after having completed vocation education and training—are at risk of being replaced in their professional activities.

Clarifying the underlying factors was crucial to the project. The discussion is currently dominated by the rationale that human work is unprofitable and that robots or machines can better perform some specific tasks of this work. These kinds of specific tasks would most certainly be replaced in any case, which, supposedly, would then in turn lead to human work being replaced in its entirety. This approach, however, falls far too short as it leaves almost no scope to recognise opportunities for shaping the change and barely takes into account the competencies upon which professional agency is based. It is also hardly possible to explain an enrichment of professional tasks using this theory. This argument is further weakened by the lack of temporal relevance (when will it be replaced?), especially since it describes some possibilities of replacement that have already long become reality.

This project takes a step back and goes into more depth by establishing how professional requirements are changing under the influence of technological developments. Instead of regarding technological transformation and all of its various forms (such as digitalisation) as the sole cause of changes to professional requirements, the project regards it as simply one of several factors. It incorporates the perspectives of companies and of members of the labour force in equal measure; the projections for the future are presented within a clear time frame.

Dealing with this theory gave rise to a brief expert report and a scientific discussion paper, as well as conference participation and workshops in which the expertise of the project team was sought after.