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Industrial workers of the future not in danger of extinction—but models are


“Operators in the future will be a partly new and much more multifaceted profession. With the help of technology, operators will be active in a completely different way,” says Niclas Björsell, reader of electronics and researcher at University of Gävle

Industriarbetare med AR-glasögon

Using a method developed at Oxford University, the Swedish Reform Institute has calculated how different occupational groups risk being replaced by digital technology. The startling forecast is that every second job will be automated within 20 years. In Sweden, there are currently 4,700,000 employees, which means that 2,490,000 thousand jobs may be replaced by computers and robots.

Occupations with the highest probability of being taken over by computers are models (98 percent) followed by accounting and bookkeeping assistants (97 percent). At the top of the list of occupations of jobs that may be taken over by computers are: "retail salespersons, demonstrators, etc." (196753) and “healthcare and nursing staff” (173019), according to a study from 2014.

The industrial worker will not disappear

Right now, the industry is at a point where technology no longer constitutes a barrier, and the digitization process is going fast in areas ranging from connected machines to a complete digitization of entire production lines.

Against this background, the EU has adopted a human-centric approach in one of its three goals for the future to ensure that digital technologies will support the workers.

Niclas Björsell

Niclas Björsell

“The industrial worker will not disappear but will have a completely different, much more advanced role. The greatest challenge is the up-skilling and re-skilling needed for workers to be able to use this technology,” says Niclas Björsell.

Re-skillling workers

Digitization is key in the process to achieve the sustainability goals. Measurement and control can reduce the environmental impact, and here human resources will be crucial.

“Replacing existing workers with, say, young computer engineers would not work at all. As process knowledge is necessary, you have to re-skill your workers, and professional development is the solution to this dilemma.”

Built into the new technology, there are various aids that will reduce the thresholds. AR glasses, for example, can provide extra information. Exoskeletons, in turn, can add strength when needed, while computers can be used to run new equipment in a simulated environment. We can also work with robots.

“Previously, technology was at the center. Now, technology will instead support people and such aids will facilitate the necessary knowledge transformation.”

“At University of Gävle, we are already there”

The EU has listed emerging technologies that pave the way for Industry 5.0 and University of Gävle currently conducts both teaching and research in most of these technologies.

“In addition, we have begun focusing on lifelong learning and course development in a number of relevant subjects. At University of Gävle, we are already there.”

Professional development within automation

“In many industries, there are skill shortages, and young people want their jobs to be meaningful, they want to contribute to the world. This development is beneficial for sustainability, and we should not be so terribly worried about the jobs, they will still be there,” Niclas Björsell says.

A study from Uppsala University and the London School of Economics, published in the Harvard Business review, examined 14 different industries with a high degree of automation in 17 countries in the USA, Europe, Australia, and South Korea. It shows that digitalisation has generated a certain wage increase, a certain production increase and no job losses.


Niclas Björsell, reader of electronics and researcher at University of Gävle. Phone: 026-64 87 95, 076-855 57 88
E-mail: niclas.bjorsell@hig.se

Text: Douglas Öhrbom
Photo Niclas Björsell: Ove Wall

Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2021-06-02
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)