Project Untangled

Follow us on social media

Project Untangled




    The event will be held in Leuven, Belgium on 23 November 2023. Please send your full papers or extended abstracts to Ilse Tobback at

    We invite contributions addressing the implications of technological transformation, globalisation, and demographic change for:

    • Heterogeneous impacts of megatrends on labour market outcomes
    • Work-related migration and skills
    • Education and future skill needs, productivity growth
    • (Regional / Rural-urban / EU) convergence/divergence, EU economic governance
    • Developments in trade and global value chains
    • Technology and human capital
    • (Wage / regional) inequality
    • Welfare states and social policy
    • Covering the combined impact of two or more driving forces – technological transformation, globalisation, and demographic change – is considered an added value.


    All the detailed information is in the Call for Papers here.

    Register here.

    Any queries can be emailed to Ilse Tobback at:





    In the session on Mobility, chaired by UNTANGLED researcher Piotr Lewandowski (IBS), Ludivine Martin from LISER (the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research) presented research on the skills supplied by migrant workers to the French and German labour markets. The paper, co-authored with Ronald Bachmann (RWI – Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung) and Bertrand Verheyden (LISER), analyses data on the distribution of migrants across various business sectors, occupations and regions, as well as education levels and age groups. The authors identify the occupations that are under- or over-supplied and assess the role of migrants in addressing the labour shortages faced by France and Germany.


    Karina Doorley (ESRI) presented another UNTANGLED study, investigating how robot penetration impacted income inequality in 14 European countries during the period from 2006 to 2018. This paper, co-authored with Dora Tuda (ESRI), Philippe Van Kerm (LISER), Piotr Lewandowski, and Jan Gromadzki (IBS – Institute for Structural Research), reveals that while automation did contribute to widening income inequality in European countries, its impact was relatively small. The study highlights that European countries’ tax and benefit systems effectively absorbed the wage and employment shocks resulting from automation, with benefits playing a particularly significant role, especially in Western Europe. These findings suggest that welfare states in Europe are more effective in mitigating the effects of automation than the system in the United States.




    The Development Policy Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, a partner of the Untangled project, has released two working papers that delve into the effects of globalisation and technological advancements on South Africa’s insurance and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sectors.


    A case study of the BPO services sector shows that globalisation has played a pivotal role in the creation of new employment opportunities and has the potential to reduce inequality in South Africa – a country dealing with one of the world’s highest unemployment rates, exceeding 30 percent. The authors of the study demonstrate that this positive outcome was achieved through a collaboration between the government and various social partners. Together, they attracted substantial foreign investment into the sector and managed its growth by leveraging the country’s comparative advantages, such as lower operating costs for businesses, a highly skilled workforce, and cultural affinity with other English-speaking countries.


    “A key discovery is that globalisation presents opportunities for growth in the service sectors of developing countries like South Africa,” said Zaakhir Asmal, Research Officer at the Development Policy Research Unit (DPRU) at the University of Cape Town. “However, in order to maximise the gains and ensure inclusive growth, stakeholders must take a coordinated approach that targets specific outcomes, such as job quality and upgrading skills.”


    The paper highlights several critical challenges that must be tackled to facilitate the continued growth of the sector. These include addressing spatial inequality and improving working conditions.


    In the case study examining the impact of technology adoption within the South African insurance sector, it becomes evident that technological innovations are likely to result in job losses, while the impact on job quality remains uncertain. The authors analysed the changes taking place in the sector, driven by the entry of new Insure Tech startups that integrate big data and AI into their operations and product offerings. The paper reveals that with the influx of disruptors and the increasing prevalence of technology in the sector, significant skill gaps start to emerge as a major concern for insurance companies. This requires reskilling and changes in organisational culture that can bridge the knowledge and technology divide in the workforce.


    The authors’ findings underscore a concerning trend: technological innovation is likely to widen inequality in South Africa, as it benefits individuals with highly developed skills, often from more affluent socio-economic backgrounds. In light of these observations, it becomes clear that the technological innovation in the insurance industry needs to be carefully managed, with appropriate policies implemented to ensure that the benefits apply to everyone in society, not just a few.


    Allen Whitehead, C., Asmal, Z. and Bhorat, H. (2023). Co-ordination to support inclusive growth in developing countries in the context of globalization: The case of the business process outsourcing sector in South Africa. Development Policy Research Unit Working Paper 202307. DPRU, University of Cape Town.


    Asmal, Z., Bhorat, H., Martin, L. and Rooney, C. (2023). Technological Change and Workplace Innovation in the Insurance Sector in South Africa: Disruption with the Potential for Social Good in a Developing Country Context? Development Policy Research Unit Working Paper 202306. DPRU, University of Cape Town.

    2021 © UNTANGLED. All rights reserved.
    This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101004776

    Follow us on social media