Project Untangled

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Project Untangled



    Held on 23 November at HIVA KU-Leuven, the conference comprised nine sessions, featuring 30 presentations and drawing 47 participants from research institutes and universities across Europe.


    “We had a very productive day, filled with discussions of the dynamic changes occurring in the labour market, such as emerging forms of work, the well-being of workers, and the impact of AI and other technologies on occupations, tasks, and wages,” says Mikkel Barslund, who coordinates the UNTANGLED research consortium. “I am particularly pleased that we could also exchange ideas with our colleagues from other Horizon projects, such as Pillars, GI-NI, and TransEuroWorks.”


    The event started with a keynote from Melanie Arntz (ZEW), “De-Routinization in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – Firm-Level Evidence”. She showed that the diffusion of frontier technologies is likely to accelerate deroutinisation. The decline in routine-intensive work will be concentrated among companies that are ready to use technologies most efficiently and make the necessary investments in training to address changing skills needs. Frontier technologies have an inherently self-reinforcing character in terms of deroutinisation. Larger companies are better able to train people, and have a higher share of non-routine cognitive workers. That means they grow faster, which has effects on market concentration.


    Generative AI

    In the session “Jobs and their Quality,” researchers explored the impact of green investments and the adoption of AI and ICT on the working environment and well-being of employees. Fabrizio Pompei (UNIPG) demonstrated that investing in green technologies enhances industrial relations in Italy, with unions actively contributing to the implementation of ecological transitions. Next, Paweł Gmyrek (ILO) presented a paper on the influence of Generative AI on the quantity and quality of jobs, providing evidence that widespread technology adoption will not kill jobs but alter their nature. He also showed that introducing technology in consultation with workers yields better outcomes in terms of job quality and productivity. In her presentation, Aleksandra Parteka (Gdansk University of Technology) highlighted that employee well-being is linked to the type of technological exposure, with workers who are exposed to software and robots facing worse working conditions than those dealing with AI. Wouter Zwysen (ETUI) concluded the session by exploring the widening polarisation between workers with lower and higher skills in their access to better workplaces.


    Karol Madoń (IBS) initiated the Global Value Chains (GVC) session by presenting a paper that demonstrates a negative association between GVC participation and wage inequality in most low- and middle-income countries receiving offshored jobs, while revealing a positive correlation in high-income countries outsourcing jobs. Isabelle Rabaud (University of Orléans) showed that digitalisation reinforces backward GVC participation and that new technologies enhance GVC participation. Zuzana Zavarska (wiiw) showed that investments in digital technologies and business R&D increase specialisations in R&D activities within the value chain, especially benefiting less developed EU countries. Xianjia Ye (Groningen University) wrapped up the session with a discussion of how changes in technology, trade and consumption impact the demand for jobs in particular functions.


    The “Skills and Tasks” session centred on the evolution of skills demand and task content in occupations. Lorenzo Navarini (KU Leuven) shared his research on changes in direct and indirect returns to skills. Eduard Storm (RWI) investigated the impact of the growing demand for AI skills, revealing no effects on employment but a positive impact on wages. Finally, Tommaso Ciarli presented survey results indicating that by 2030, NLP and Machine Learning technologies, mobile and collaborative robots, and network management and orchestration technologies will become prevalent and take on roles traditionally performed by technicians and professionals, such as data analysis.


    Green transition

    During the “Inside Firms and Organizations” session, researchers delved into the impacts of migration, automation, and the green transition on workers and workplaces throughout Europe. Ursula Holtgrewe (ZSI) presented case studies from UNTANGLED, revealing that the influence of three megatrends (technological transformation, globalisation and demographic change) on various sectors is mitigated by employment practices, industrial relations, and market regulations. Zuzanna Kowalik (IBS) followed, with an examination of the effects of automation on skills and power dynamics within shared service centres (SSCs) in Central and Eastern Europe. She highlighted that workers must adapt their skills to remain relevant as Robot Process Automation (RPA) and AI pose threats to routine-intensive tasks within SSCs, impacting both their growth and their competitiveness. A presentation from Anna-Lena Nadler (Leiden University) focused on the political consequences of structural changes that are taking place in labour markets. She argued that these changes have the potential to influence political support for enhanced EU social protection policies.


    The “Technology, Jobs, and Wages” session comprised three presentations. Antea Barišic (University of Zagreb) presented compelling evidence indicating that the adoption of new technologies, as measured by factors such as patents, ICT investments, and robot intensity, exerts a limited impact on wages and labour income shares. Florian Schneider (VDMA) shared the results of a systematic literature review, revealing that the overall effects of industrial robot adoption on wages hover close to zero and lack economic significance. Malhotra Raghav (Leicester University) presented a paper examining the influence of technology shock on wage dynamics. Raghav’s findings demonstrated that occupations facing obsolescence are marked by higher salaries (referred to as obsolescence rents) but employ fewer and older workers.


    Platform workers

    The “Platform and Flexible Work” session looked at emerging forms of work and the associated opportunities and risks for workers. Uma Rani (ILO) explored whether the rise of platform work could facilitate economic catch-up and sustainable development in low-income economies. She proposed policies, institutional arrangements, and regulatory measures to effectively integrate digitalisation with structural reforms. Elief Vandevenne (VUB) concentrated on the impact of platform jobs on workers’ health and well-being, revealing a consistent positive relationship between poor employment conditions and diminished well-being. Rachel Scarfe (Edinburgh University) highlighted the increasing share of part-time jobs in the EU, coupled with a narrowing wage gap between part-time and full-time workers. However, Scarfe questioned whether these trends result from shifts in workers’ preferences or structural changes in firms’ technology. To shed light on this, she developed a labour market model capable of explaining both firms’ and workers’ preferences for part- and full-time work.


    Ainhoa Urtasun (UPNA) kicked off the session “Technology Adoption”, examining the impact of robot adoption on workplaces, hiring practices, occupational composition, and skill requirements. Subsequently, Fabien Petit (UCL) and Deyu Li (Utrecht University) presented two papers from the Pillars project. Petit’s presentation revealed that firms prefer to hire workers capable of using a bundle of technologies rather than specific ones. Moreover, only four emerging technologies, namely cloud computing and storage, industrial robotic automation, and workflow management systems, were found to be associated with a positive wage premium. Li demonstrated that occupations highly exposed to technological advances correlate with employment growth in sectors producing automation technologies, while experiencing employment decline in sectors that use automation technologies.



    The “Regional and Structural Change” session showcased four presentations. Vegard Fykse Skirbekk (FHI) led off by exploring the connection between occupational structural risk and fertility, revealing that higher occupational risk is associated with reduced fertility for both genders. Tommaso Ciarli (UNU-MERIT) presented research from the Pillars project, analysing how exposure to automation across different phases of technological cycles affects employment and wages from a regional perspective. Francesco Venturini (UNIPG) investigated whether areas specialising in AI exhibit more uneven income distribution, finding an 8% decline in labour share for every doubling of the regional stock of AI innovations. Jelena Reljic (Rome University) demonstrated that on average, AI exposure has a positive effect on regional employment, suggesting that areas with a higher proportion of AI-exposed occupations tend to experience more favourable employment trends.


    The “Training, Skills, and Working Conditions” session commenced with Patricia Wruuck’s (BMWK) presentation, showing that following the adoption of advanced digital technologies, companies tend to reduce their investment in training per employee while increasing their workforce. Sarah Fleche (UNIV – PARIS 1), in her exploration of the impact of digitalisation on working conditions, argued that use of ICT is correlated with enhancements in non-pecuniary working conditions. Although increased ICT usage leads to improved skills, support, stability, physical integrity, scheduling, and flexibility, it concurrently diminishes autonomy, psychological integrity, and the ability to work at an unconstrained pace. Ludivine Martin (LISER) explored the relationships between digital skills, identifying crucial competencies that individuals and organisations should prioritise to enhance adaptability and resilience in response to changing labour market demands.


    The full programme is available HERE.

    The Call for Papers available HERE.





    During the 22 November online debate, part of the final conference of Project UNTANGLED, moderator Karolien Lenaerts (HIVA-KU Leuven) posed the question of whether we are approaching a golden age for workers. In response, most panellists agreed that the growing labour shortages are exerting upward pressure on wages and working conditions, theoretically brightening the prospects for employees.


    Frank Siebern-Thomas (Green, and Digital Transitions, Research Unit, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, European Commission) highlighted that three-fourths of European SMEs currently face skills and labour shortages, while two-thirds of European companies cannot find IT specialists. While optimistic about worker prospects, he underscored the risks and structural challenges that EU governments and firms must address. These challenges include reskilling the European workforce to adapt to evolving job roles resulting from technological advances and the transition to a green economy.


    Siebern-Thomas also noted that the European Commission is aware of these challenges and committed to addressing them through initiatives such as the European Year of Skills, focusing on upskilling, training, and innovation initiatives across member states.


    “Is this a golden age for workers? Maybe, but much depends on policies and their effective implementation,” Siebern-Thomas said.


    Melanie Arntz (ZEW), also optimistic about workers’ prospects, emphasised additional challenges that must be addressed for a golden age to materialise. She said particular attention should be directed to taxes and transfer systems and how they create incentives for working full-time. Arntz also raised concerns about AI and other technologies potentially devaluing certain skills and knowledge, leading to declining returns on formal education.


    “It will be more difficult for people to guess what the return on formal education will be, which means they may underinvest in education because they might not be sure how much they’ll get out of it,” she said. “Therefore, we should provide as much transparency as we can on all these trends, so people can orient themselves around this new labour market.”


    Arntz also highlighted another challenge: technology-driven mental stress among workers.


    Marguerita Lane (Future of Work team, OECD) focused on the positive impact AI can have on the workforce. She highlighted the technology’s potential to boost productivity, alleviate sluggish growth, reduce the need for human labour in routine and manual work, and liberate workers from unsafe, repetitive, and monotonous tasks. Lane stressed that AI also has the potential to bridge inequality by enabling lower-skilled workers to level up. Similar to previous speakers, Lane emphasised that these positive outcomes can only materialise with the right policies and social safety nets in place.


    “It is about policy choices; in this disruptive time, we need a smooth transition, and for this we need public services, governments, and companies to support workers displaced by new technologies,” Lane said.


    Robert Stehrer (wiiw) took a less optimistic stance on the prospects for workers. Citing recent literature, he argued that the impact of new technologies such as AI on the labour market may not be very significant, and might not help overcome labour shortages. Stehrer also highlighted that the shrinking and ageing of the EU population places a burden on the healthcare and pension systems. According to Stehrer, it is plausible that we are entering a period of secular stagnation: a prolonged period of negligible economic growth.


    “Even if there are higher wages, these will need to be taxed to meet the demands of the healthcare and pension system,” Stehrer concluded.


    The discussion also covered areas such as working conditions, the challenges faced by platform workers, the potential and the difficulties of undeclared work, opportunities for migration to the EU, and gender dimensions within the workforce. Additionally, it explored how the evolving labour market is influencing the welfare state.


    The UNTANGLED debate sheds light on the broad and diverse landscape of opportunities and challenges that makes up today’s labour market. The path to any golden age for workers must pass through that terrain, and technological advances in and of themselves aren’t enough to ensure a safe journey. Instead, it will require thoughtful implementation of policies that uphold the well-being and resilience of the workforce in the face of unprecedented changes.





    Speaking on the panel “Poverty and Inequality Proofing of Policies for a Fair Twin Transition”, Doorley unveiled an UNTANGLED paper’s findings illustrating that tax and welfare policies can alleviate the impact of automation on income inequality.


    The panel focused on the significance of Distributional Impact Assessment (DIA) in the context of policies and reforms implemented by Member States to support the digital (and green) transition. DIA plays a crucial role in measuring how these policies affect different segments of the population in terms of poverty and inequality. Other panellists included Sara De la Rica, the Director of ISEAK; Salvador Barrios, Head of the Fiscal Policy Analysis Unit of the Joint Research Centre, European Commission; and Cinzia Alcidi, Head of the Economic Policy and Jobs & Skills Unit at CEPS.


    This year’s edition of the European Social Forum, hosted by the European Commission, centred around the impact of AI on the world of work. The conference aimed to discuss how EU policy can influence and address AI innovation in member countries, protecting workers’ rights throughout the Union.



    We have also made some changes to the panel. The new list of participants is:


    • Melanie Arntz, (Professor, ZEW)
    • Robert Stehrer (Scientific Director at wiiw)
    • Frank Siebern-Thomas (Head of unit for Fair Green and Digital Transitions, DG EMPL)
    • Marguerita Lane (Economist, OECD)
    • Moderator: Karolien Lenaerts (Head of Research Group Work, Organisation and Social Dialogue, HIVA KU Leuven).


    Event Details:

    Date: 22 November

    Time: 4:00-5:30

    Location: Online

    To attend, please register here.


    Together we will examine pressing concerns such as chronic labour shortages; AI’s impact on jobs; caring for the elderly; job market inequality; the influence of Large Language Models (LLMs) on high-skilled roles; and green transition champions.

    We will also explore the skills that will remain relevant in the evolving job market. Are we entering a period of plentiful jobs, and broad-based productivity and wage increases? Or are we on the verge of a period where the returns on education and skills will change – unpredictably – for all? What role will globalisation play in this? How can we fill (low-paying) care jobs? What role is there for the European Commission? What should policymakers do to address these challenges and reap opportunities, and what constraints do they face?





    The event will take place at KU Leuven on the Campus of Social Sciences on 23 November 2023 and feature a keynote address from Professor Melanie Arntz, Deputy Head of ZEW’s Labour Markets and Social Insurance Research Unit: “Different Perspectives on the Digital Transformation of the Labour Market.”

    We will have nine sessions and over 30 papers:

    1. Jobs and their quality
    2. Global value chains
    3. Skills and tasks
    4. Inside firms and organisations
    5. Technology, jobs and wages
    6. Platform and flexible work
    7. Technology adoption
    8. Regional and structural change
    9. Training, skills and working conditions

    All the detailed information is in the Programme available HERE.

    Register before November 12 HERE

    Any queries can be emailed to Ilse Tobback at:




    New results from UNTANGLED paints a nuanced picture of robotisation and automation’s effects, helping to ease concerns about conditions for millions of workers as technological innovations enhance efficiency and replace tasks. While impacts will be heterogeneous, approximately 80% of 100 major European economic areas will experience net benefits in average workers’ welfare.


    “Digital transformation represents more of an opportunity than a risk for most regions in Europe,” said Michal Burzynski, a labour market research scientist at the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER), and a study co-author. “That said, workers in some parts of Europe will be negatively affected. Understanding these implications is crucial for formulating effective policies that address the challenges, and opportunities, arising from robotisation and automation.”


    To evaluate the potential consequences of robotisation and automation on European labour markets, the researchers used a general equilibrium model, combined with projection scenarios, to benchmark how future technological progress may reshape labour in Europe.


    With data on GDP, wages, employment, education and migration from Eurostat, OECD, and on robotisation and automation from IFR and EU-KLEMS, the researchers quantified average wage effects and changes in wage dispersion across occupations, sectors, geographical areas, and worker groups.


    Overall, the researchers determined that while a strong majority of regions benefit from robotisation and automation, the effect is heterogeneous, both across and within countries.


    “The Paris area, Austria, Switzerland, as well as Nordic and some Baltic regions belong to the main nominal GDP winners of robotisation and automation, followed by the rest of France, the south of Germany, Benelux, and Ireland,” they wrote. “A weaker positive or slightly negative impact is observed in the UK, and southern and eastern European regions.”


    With a benchmark scenario calculated, the researchers then analysed the potential effects of robotisation and automation on workers with different origins, education levels, and skills using three scenarios of robotisation and automation: slow, medium, and fast. The slow adoption scenario will reduce average native welfare in half of the Europen regions. In the medium adoption scenario, average native welfare improved across Europe, except for in roughly 20 regions, particularly in France and Poland. In the fast adoption scenario, the negative welfare impacts concern fewer regions.


    Across sectors, impacts on labour supply also varied. Manufacturing was projected as the most likely beneficiary of robotisation and automation in in Belgian and German regions. Public administration, education, and health services were projected to gain in most regions with higher positive impacts in Nordic and Alpine countries, while transport and storage was projected to experience the highest growth in eastern Europe and Austria. In contrast, construction and financial services tended to shrink in most regions.


    The disparity in regional and sectoral benefits demands strong policy responses, the researchers noted.


    “As robotisation and automation continue to progress, it’s increasingly probable that this trend will impact workers who have, thus far, been relatively unaffected,” said Joël Machado, a LISER research scientist and another study co-author. “Our projected scenarios can help policymakers better target interventions that support those who are adversely affected by the digital transformation.”


    Burzynski, M., Machado, J., and Martin, L. (2023). Digital transformation, demographic changes, and labour markets. Projected implications for 100 European regions (Deliverable 6.2). Leuven: UNTANGLED project 1001004776 – H2020.


    The paper is available here.




    Some skills are being made obsolete by automation, while at the same time the demand for people who can perform non-routine tasks is increasing, according to a policy brief from the three-year project, which examines the effects of globalisation, demographics and technological change on labour markets in Europe and beyond.


    Meanwhile, technology-driven changes are increasing demand for digital skills, and certain social skills, such as independence and enthusiasm, have also gained importance. Demand may shift again if artificial intelligence contributes to the automation of more non-routine skills. Employees’ self-perception of being under-skilled has also increased, the researchers find.


    “Technological progress increases the value of new skills that younger workers tend to have an advantage in and diminishes the value of older skills that more senior workers possess,” said Piotr Lewandowski, head of the Institute for Structural Research, a member of the UNTANGLED research consortium. “As population ageing reduces the number of labour market entrants in Europe, investing in the skills of prime-aged and older workers becomes essential.”


    To address the skill mismatch, the European Union named 2023 the European Year of Skills, with the aim that by 2030, 60% of adults will participate in training each year, increasing the employment rate to 78%.


    Despite the need for upskilling and reskilling, the number of adults in training is low in Europe, ranging from slightly over 25% in Nordic countries to less than 10% in Eastern Europe (measured for the four weeks prior to the date they were surveyed).


    UNTANGLED researchers argue that when providing opportunities for adults to upgrade their skills and qualifications, companies and policymakers should take into account that employees’ training needs vary and depend on many factors including age, gender, family, current skills, industry, and where they live. Unfortunately, the available training is scarce and doesn’t always match these needs.


    “Data show that more than half of adults don’t see the point of training, suggesting that offerings should be improved, and more has to be done to raise awareness and outreach,” Lewandowski said. “Meanwhile there is also a group of employees who want to train but are stymied by time constraints and high costs.”


    UNTANGLED researchers advocate looking into successful programmes and initiatives, including the introduction of on-the-job training grants, Individual Learning Accounts, and Training Leave.


    Individual Learning Accounts, introduced in France, are like virtual savings accounts where balances accumulate over time that can be used to fund training, allowing workers to choose the skills that are most important to them. Over 2 million workers in France have used ILAs.


    Training Leave programmes operating in Sweden let workers take time off from their jobs to improve their skills. This allows overcoming the problem of not having enough time, which stops almost 30% of workers from training. Giving financial help to workers taking leave and offering longer leaves could encourage more participation.


    “Sweden’s long-term Training Leave programme addresses key obstacles employees face when thinking about training: it offers financial help and flexibility in choosing training,” said Wojciech Szymczak from the Institute for Structural Research, who co-authored the policy brief.


    Finally, Lewandowski and Szymczak suggest expanding on-the-job training opportunities in small and medium-sized companies. Smaller companies often can’t afford proper training for their workers; policymakers could help by covering the cost. For example, Dutch authorities successfully introduced a programme that reimbursed training costs for such companies, leading to over 180,000 training projects in 2019.


    Policymakers should take local conditions into account when implementing the recommendations, consulting with social partners such as trade unions and employers’ organisations, the authors say.


    Lewandowski, P., & Szymczak, W. (2023). UNTANGLED Policy brief: Fostering lifelong learning as the market for skills evolves (Deliverable 7.3). Leuven: UNTANGLED project 1001004776 – H2020.


    You can read the policy brief here.




    Arntz, who is also Leibniz Professor of Labour Economics at Heidelberg University, will discuss “Different Perspectives on the Digital Transformation of the Labour Market.”


    Registration for the conference, titled “Labour Market Effects and Social Impact of Technological Transformation, Globalisation, and Demographic Change”, is now open.

    Register here.

    Fore more information please visit our Events section.

    The full programme will be available soon.




    In an interview with Francesca Guerzoni, Piotr Lewandowski of the Institute for Structural Research (IBS) presented the key findings from the UNTANGLED research paper “Automation and Income Inequality in Europe,” which he co-authored. The research reveals that although robots may have some adverse effects on the earnings and employment rates of more exposed worker groups in Europe, their influence on household income inequality is relatively limited, thanks to the balancing effect of European benefit systems.


    Lewandowski highlighted the substantial variations among European countries. For instance, Belgium and Germany have experienced significant labor market disruptions due to automation, but their tax and welfare systems have responded robustly. This contrasts with Eastern European countries, where the response has been less pronounced.


    For the full interview, please click here. To access the research paper, click here.




    The research explores the extent to which wage disparities among employees in similar roles are influenced by a company’s willingness to invest in improving skills. The authors analysed spending both on general training and on IT-specific courses.


    The paper finds that employees at European firms that invest in training earn 9% more, on average, than their peers at companies that do not prioritise workforce development. Among IT-intensive workers, this wage gap expands to 17%.


    “Training is seen as a tool for improving employees’ opportunities and working conditions, and for increasing company productivity,” Cecilia Jona-Lasinio said. “The need for training increases with the pace of technological change. With the adoption of new technologies and acceleration of automation, formal education and experience are not sufficient, so new competencies are required.”


    While previous studies showed 16% of European workers are exposed to skill-displacing technological change, the paper from Jona-Lasinio and Venturini shows that the adverse effects of digitalisation can be tackled at the company level through training policies.


    The authors analysed data from 112,000 companies, employing between 10 and 999 workers, from twelve European countries, and found that 65% provided general training, with the highest proportions observed in France (84%) and the lowest in Bulgaria (26%). One-third of the companies also offered training in advanced digital skills, with the highest number in the UK, Norway, Germany and Denmark.


    Data show that firms which invest in training tend to be bigger. The highest wages are paid by organisations where spending on upskilling is the highest, and where the largest share of the workforce is trained. In terms of the type of training, i.e. internal or external offered by a specialised institution, the combination of both yields the best results, as it gives employees a mixture of company-specific skills and more general ones.


    “On an individual level our study shows that people who want to earn more should be ready for lifelong learning, and search for employers who offer training,” says Francesco Venturini. “Our study also suggests that the wage differences across firms might widen if laggard companies were unable to systematically organise training. We should keep this in mind when designing policies on innovation and support for companies.”


    Jona-Lasinio, C. and Venturini, F. (2023), “On-the-job training, wages and digitalisation: evidence from European firms”, International Journal of Manpower, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

    You can also access the paper here.


    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

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