Project Untangled

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Project Untangled


    The sixth edition of the UNTANGLED Open Virtual Expert Café brought together 12 participants who discussed labour-market issues, presented their work and shared information about new projects.



    The February 14 meet-up organised by ZSI hosted five presentations:


    Karolien Lenaerts from HIVA, KU Leuven talked about a recent UNTANGLED case study (to be published in March 2023), illustrating workplace innovation by means of digital transformation processes at the company level. The case study looked at a testing, inspection and certification company and its journey of internal restructuring that began a few years ago. The top-down introduction of digital inspection and reporting tools, intended to improve both front- and back-office processes, backfired by negatively affecting workers’ autonomy, quality of work and mental wellbeing. The lack of piloting and testing phases, as well as not considering workers’ professionalism and user experience, contributed to these adverse outcomes. The firm appeared to have entered a sunk cost fallacy: after having invested considerably into the technology, it continues this endeavour despite proof of its inadequacy. Hence, the case contains lessons on both the social and business risks of a digitalisation process that does not consider workers’ and users’ views and working practices.


    Pelin Özgül from the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) at Maastricht University introduced ai:conomics – a new research project that seeks to develop scientific insights into the impact of AI on jobs, performance, skills demand and worker well-being. The methodology is threefold: using so called “insider econometrics”, or field experiments in companies to gain knowledge from corporate practice; economics; and a transdisciplinary perspective including “researchers, employers, employees, technology-experts, members of the works council and political decision-makers”. The aim of the project is to contribute to a better understanding of societal challenges that emerge with the introduction of AI, and find ways to overcome them.


    Ursula Holtgrewe from ZSI – Centre for Social Innovation extended an invitation to a webinar planned for 27 February by the WeLaR project. WeLaR, or “Welfare systems and labour market policies for economic and social resilience in Europe”, is an interdisciplinary research project that investigates the impact of demographic changes, globalisation, digitalisation and climate change on labour markets and welfare states across the continent. For more information on the webinar and the project itself, please visit


    Katrin Sommerfeld from the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW), who is also a research affiliate at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), summed up the results of ZEW Discussion Paper No. 22-069, which studied the demand effect of immigration on local labour markets. The research made use of the fact that asylum-seekers in Germany are banned from working in the first few months after arrival, which allowed “isolating a pure immigration-induced labour demand effect”. The results suggest that hosting refugees generates additional employment for natives: for each additional asylum seeker in a district, 0.4 additional jobs are created. Low-skilled workers and non-refugee migrants, especially women, experience the strongest employment gains. The effects appear to fade away after 2-3 years. One possible interpretation of the findings is that “migrants add to the consumer base and consume a larger share of locally produced goods and services than natives”.


    Finally, Fabrizio Pompei from the University of Perugia presented evidence of the impact of industry-level robot exposure on the likelihood of receiving a temporary contract for workers in six EU countries. The research makes use of Peneder’s taxonomy of sectoral technological regimes according to the low or high cumulativeness of knowledge (Peneder, 2010). The results suggest that in low-cumulativeness industries where innovation-related knowledge is less accumulative, robot adoption may increase the share of temporary contracts for high-skilled workers “if the dominant labour reallocation effect is driven by robot adopting companies that need new skills”, while in firms requiring more accumulation of knowledge, increasing robot adoption is related to lower shares of temporary contracts among the higher-skilled.


    The collected slides are available here.


    The next Café will take place on May 4, 2:00-3:30 pm CET.


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    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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