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Project Untangled


    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.




    The workshop “Old and new inequalities in disruptive times” was organised by UNTANGLED researchers Roberta Capello, Camilla Lenzi, and Elisa Panzera from Politecnico di Milano, with the aim of bringing together the newest research from projects: PILLARS, ESSPIN, TWIN SEEDS, and UNTANGLED.


    The event, which featured presentations of seven papers, started with a keynote from Professor George Petrakos (University of Thessaly), coordinator of the ESSPIN project, who talked about drivers and implications of inequalities in Europe. He stressed that regional inequalities are rising in Europe, and interest from researchers and policymakers is increasing.

    The first part of the workshop concentrated on the impact on inequalities of the radical technological transformations known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Camilla Lenzi presented the findings of a paper she wrote jointly with Roberta Capello and Elisa Panzera within Project UNTANGLED. The authors confirmed that wage inequalities have been rising in Europe, as an outcome of technological transformations. In regions where the digital service economy is fully developed, intraregional income inequalities are higher. Next, Robert Stehrer (The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies) presented his paper “On the impact of ICT accumulation on labour demand growth and labour income shares”, which shows that ICT capital accumulation has no strong impact on labour demand growth. Robert’s presentation was followed by another UNTANGLED researcher, Francesco Venturini (University of Perugia), who presented the preliminary result of his study “Firm-Level productivity effects of patents in the Fourth Industrial Revolution Technologies across European countries” written jointly with Fabrizio Pompei. The first part of the workshop was closed by a presentation by Maria Savona (University of Sussex, SPRU and LUISS), “Emerging digital technologies and labour markets. A systemic review of technical literature” based on her research with Tommaso Ciarli, Ed Steinmueller, and Simone Vannuccini as part of the PILLARS project.


    The next three presentations, discussed during the second part of the workshop, concentrated on the impact of globalisation and migration on inequalities. First, TWIN SEEDS researcher Laura Resmini (University of Milano Bicocca) talked about the territorial impact of global value chains. Next, ESSPIN Project researcher Riccardo Crescenzi (London School of Economics), in a presentation titled “Harnessing Global Value Chains for Regional Development”, discussed how regions can build, embed, and reshape global value chains for their local enhancement. The session ended with a presentation by UNTANGLED researcher Michał Burzyński (Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research, LISER) who discussed his paper “Natives Sorting and the Impact of Immigration on European Labor Markets” written jointly with Giovanni Peri.


    The program is available here.



    The November 15 meet-up hosted four presentations:


    Ursula Holtgrewe of ZSI announced WeLaR, a new interdisciplinary research project examining the impact of digitalisation, globalisation, climate change and demographic shifts on labour markets and welfare states in Europe. The project aims to improve the understanding of the individual and combined effects of these trends on the market for labour and thus on welfare programmes, and to develop policy proposals fostering economic growth that is distributed fairly across society and generates opportunities for all.


    Eduard Suari-Andreau of Leiden University talked about his recent research with Olaf van Vliet on worker mobility in the EU and public transfers. Using detailed administrative data, researchers calculated the benefits and allowances received by intra-EU migrants and compared them to those obtained by native Dutch citizens. The results show that while EU migrants receive less frequent and lower assistance, the differences narrow over time and fade after about seven years. The study also shows that differences in benefits and allowances received between migrants and Dutch citizens vary between schemes. For instance, migrants from Central and Eastern European countries are more likely to receive welfare benefits, while Dutch people are more likely to receive a state pension (AOW).


    Roman Romisch of the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies – wiiw – discussed the results of his research on the impact of globalisation on regional growth disparities. He provided evidence that in Europe, structural changes triggered by globalisation did not increase the divide between urban and rural regions. On the contrary, between 2000 and 2019 differences in regions’ GDP became smaller. Romisch argues that developing a sector (e.g. tourism) helps laggard areas to catch up. Hence EU Cohesion Policy and national industrial policies can help overcome the forces of agglomeration and create new sectors in rural areas.


    Lisa Cheree-Martin of the DPRU at the University of Cape Town presented the preliminary results of an UNTANGLED case study on the impact of technological changes and work innovation on the insurance sector in South Africa. The study finds that technological changes can broaden the client base as insurance products become cheaper and more accessible for poorer people. However, automation of tasks will lead to job losses. Because skill gaps are already present in the industry, sector leaders are aware that investment in upskilling and reskilling of the workforce is inevitable.


    The collected slides are available here.


    The date of the next Café will take place on February 14, at 2:00-3:30 pm




    “The conference provided an excellent opportunity both to showcase the work of UNTANGLED researchers and to hear from others in the fields we’re looking at,” says Mikkel Barslund, who coordinates the UNTANGLED research consortium. “We managed to attract a number of high-quality papers with findings that will certainly inspire new avenues of research, and I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the success of this event.”


    The conference started with a keynote from Anna Salomons, Professor of Employment and Inequality at Utrecht University, who talked about newly emerging job categories (“new work”). She shared the findings of her research showing that new work emerges in response both to technological innovations that complement the outputs of occupations, and to demand shocks that raise occupational demand. Conversely, innovations that automate existing job tasks do not yield new work, while adverse occupational demand shifts slow the rate of new work emergence.


    These flows of augmentation and automation innovations are positively correlated across occupations but have countervailing effects on labour demand, Salomons found: augmentation innovations boost occupational labour demand, while automation innovations erode it. Piotr Lewandowski (IBS), who commented on the keynote, stressed the importance of new measurements proposed by Salomons and her co-authors, and new stylised facts on connections between innovation and long-term occupational change


    Technological change and employment

    The morning part of the conference was split into two thematic sessions, each of which had four papers. The Technological Change and Employment session, chaired by UNTANGLED researcher Robert Stehrer (Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies – wiiw), started with a presentation by Fabien Petit (Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex), who discussed his paper titled “Heterogeneous Adjustments of Labor Markets to Automation Technologies”, written jointly with Tommaso Ciarli and Florencia Jaccoud. The paper, an outcome of the Pillars research project, provides evidence on the relationship between investment in automation and employment in European regions, and shows the extent to which this varies over time across clusters of regions, industries, and technologies.


    Myrielle Gonschor (Leibniz Institute for Economic Research-RWI) presented a paper titled “The Impact of Robots on Labour Market Transitions in Europe”, written jointly with Ronald Bachmann, Piotr Lewandowski and Karol Madoń within the framework of UNTANGLED. Their findings provide evidence that the rise in automation of European economies has a small positive impact on employment.


    Next, Antonio Martins Neto (UNU-MERIT) talked about his, Xavier Cirera’s and Alex Coad’s research on Brazil’s labour market. Neto discussed a paper titled: “Routine-biased technological change and employee outcomes after mass layoffs: evidence from Brazil” which shows that job displacement has a negative and lasting impact. Workers in routine-intensive occupations suffer a more significant decline in wages, and more extended periods of unemployment, than those in non-routine occupations.


    The last presentation in the Technological Change and Employment session was given by Piotr Lewandowski (Institute for Structural Research – IBS). He talked about UNTANGLED research conducted jointly with Karina Doorley, Jan Gromadzki, Dora Tuda and Philippe Van Kerm on the impact of automation on income inequality in Europe. Their preliminary results show that even though automation impacted employment rates and wages in most European countries, its effect on household income inequality was very small.


    Skills and education

    Meanwhile, the parallel morning session was devoted to skills and education and was chaired by UNTANGLED researcher Ilse Tobback (HIVA-KU Leuven). The first speaker, Femke Cnossen (University of Groningen) presented a paper titled: “Learning the Right Skill: The Returns to Social, Technical and Basic Skills for Middle-Educated Graduates”, written jointly with Matloob Piracha and Guy Tchuente. This paper provides a new data set and uncovers the skills that middle-skilled students learn in school. Using this data, the authors show that skill returns vary across students specialized in STEM, economics and health, as well as across sectors.


    Ludivine Martin (LISER) presented a paper titled “Boom of Digital Skills: Recent Labour Market Dynamics in Western European Countries”, written jointly with Kamil Filipek. The authors’ preliminary results show that the existing classification of digital skills does not follow the dynamics of these skills in the labour market and that purely technical skills are not in the highest demand. Moreover, the Covid pandemic lowered the demand for some domains of digital skills.


    Lucas van der Velde (FAME|GRAPE) presented a paper titled: “Digitalisation, Changing Demand for Skills and the Gender Inequality in Earnings”, written with Wojciech Hardy and Anna Matysiak. The authors find that women are overrepresented in lower-paid care and teaching tasks rather than in better-paid management or teamwork tasks. Furthermore, women are least present in occupations that are rich in analytical tasks and which pay best.


    Florian Röser (University of Konstanz) discussed a paper titled: “Automation and Inequality – The Role of Educational Spending”, written with Daniele Angelini and Stefan Niemann, which analyses the trade-off between higher production growth and lower inequality, and the role of education policies in overcoming this trade-off. Their findings suggest that one-dimensional policies are ineffective in achieving this goal.


    Before the afternoon sessions started, we hosted a panel discussion on policy, moderated by UNTANGLED project leader Mikkel Barslund, with three speakers: Mario Mariniello (DG EMPL’s Future of Work unit, College of Europe), Eric Thode (Bertelsmann Stiftung), and Thomas Ekman Jorgensen (European University Association). A lively discussion covered several topics ranging from the impact of AI on the quality of work, an ageing workforce and whether we know how to do retraining and reskilling to thoughts about new ways to view the current model of work and what kind of labour market we want for the future.


    Technology, growth and value chains

    The afternoon session devoted to technology, growth, and value chains was chaired by Ludivine Martine (LISER). Robert Stehrer (Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies – wiiw) presented his paper titled: “The impact of ICT and intangible capital accumulation on labour demand growth and functional income shares”, which shows that there is no strong negative impact of ICT capital accumulation on labour demand growth. Stehrer also discussed another UNTANGLED paper, which he wrote with Maryna Tverdostup, “Demography, Capital Accumulation, and Growth”. They show that the ageing population is hampering growth in Europe, and that despite the growing share of older workers, adoption of automation is not accelerating.


    Sandra Leitner  (Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies – wiiw) presented a paper titled: “Employment Effects of Offshoring, Technological Change and Migration in a Group of Western European Economies: Impact on Different Occupations”, written jointly with Michael Landesmann (wiiw). The paper finds that, holding output fixed, offshoring has positive employment effects for craft workers but negative effects for managers and professionals in the manufacturing sector. Adoption of IT solutions (computer hardware) has positive employment effects for all groups of workers except for manual workers, while robotisation and migration have negative employment effects for all groups.


    Giulio Vannelli (Université Paris Dauphine – PSL) talked about a paper titled: “Global Value Chains, functional specialization and technology adoption”, written together with Lionel Fontagné, Ariell Reshef, and Gianluca Santoni. The authors find that increases in forward GVC participation reduce labour shares and result in a shift in functional specialisation away from fabrication towards other business functions: management, marketing and R&D. ICT adoption increases labour intensity through complementarity with labour, in particular in fabrication and marketing functions.


    Firms and households

    The fourth session, devoted to firms and households and moderated by Ronald Bachmann (Leibniz Institute for Economic Research – RWI) started with a presentation by Fabrizio Pompei (Università degli Studi di Perugia), who discussed his and Francesco Venturini’s paper titled: “Firm-level Productivity and Profitability Effects of Managerial and Organisational Capabilities and Innovations”. The authors show that developing AI technologies and adopting ISO 9001 standards helps laggard companies boost productivity and close the gap with top performers.


    Next, Vahagn Jerbashian (Universitat de Barcelona) presented a paper titled “The Impact of ICT on Working From Home: Evidence From EU Countries”, written jointly with Montserrat Vilalta-Bufí. They found that working from home increased significantly almost everywhere in Europe between 2008 and 2017. The rise of this mode of work is strongly and positively associated with the fall in ICT prices.


    Claudio Costanzo (ECARES) discussed his paper “Robots, Wages, and Time Allocation within Households”, which shows that automation is structurally changing labour markets and in the short run reduces average wages and the average gender gap.


    To close the session, Camilla Lenzi (Politecnico Di Milano) presented a paper titled: “The Digital Service Economy as a Source of Intra-regional Wage Inequalities”, written jointly with Roberta Capello and Elisa Panzera. Their findings partly confirm the upsurge in wage inequalities but also nuance, if not mitigate some of the most pessimistic forecasts regarding the consequences of the diffusion of the new technologies on the labour market.




    The event, organised by LISER on 20 October in Luxembourg City, featured presentations by Inès Baer, head of Data, Analytics and Labour Market Studies at the Luxembourg Employment Agency (ADEM); Ludivine Martin, a LISER researcher and member of the UNTANGLED project; and Tania Treibich of the University of Maastricht, a member of PILLARS and GROWINPRO Project.


    Inès Baer talked about the challenge ADEM faces, with a comparable number of job vacancies and job seekers at the same time. She also shared her thoughts on the difficulty of obtaining accurate data for both the supply and demand sides of the labour market, as well as from curricula contents at the local and the European level.


    Ludivine Martin discussed the labour shortage identified on the German and Luxembourg labour markets. She also presented the risk of automation associated with occupations facing shortages, along with the skills that are currently in demand, and how the picture has evolved in recent years.


    Tania Treibich talked about an original measure to capture firms’ investment in robots and automation, observing that investments tend to come in spikes. She also presented the results of research about the impact of such spikes on companies’ employment and on wage inequality.


    While discussing the presentations, participants delved into how globalisation, digitalisation and demographic changes are reshaping EU labour markets. They discussed countries’ efforts to improve the quality of labour market data, and highlighted the challenge to getting accurate data at the European level.


    Participants also discussed the specific context of the cross-border regions of Luxembourg that have shortages in similar occupations on their labour markets. These trends should result in increased competition between territories to attract talent in the coming years, and drive further efforts to train, reskill and upskill students, workers and job seekers.


    Finally, participants shared ideas on existing actions and recommended policies to protect workers from the adverse impacts of the three megatrends.






    The event, titled “Data and knowledge sources: how to put the evidence to work?” and organised by ZSI, was held on 21 and 22 September in Vienna and began with a look into a series of research methodologies and examples to explore their practical uses. Fabrizio Pompei (University of Perugia) presented a study on “Managerial practices and their effects on productivity”, and Irina Vana (Austrian National Public Health Institute) and Nela Šalamon (ZSI) discussed “Building and using indicators for gender equality” in the city of Vienna. Mikkel Barslund (KU Leuven) explored the expectations and limitations of mobilising expertise and experience to achieve societal impact through research.


    Continuing the theme, Ursula Holtgrewe (ZSI) looked into the possibilities for comparative case studies to understand trends in various institutional and organisational contexts, and presented work in progress from Project UNTANGLED. Martina Pezer (Institute of Public Finance, HR), Maja Jandrić (University of Belgrade) and Robert Stehrer (wiiw) presented possible formats for interaction between policy and research. On the next day, Ann Coenen (FOD Werkgelegenheid, Arbeid en Sociale Overleeg, Belgium), Viktor Fleischer (Industriellenvereinigung, Austria), and Michael Soder (Austrian Chamber of Labour) reflected on public bodies’ and social partners’ experience in commissioning dedicated research and identifying relevant insights.


    Constraints on such interactions lie in the specific logic of the research and policy systems. Specialisation directs researchers and scientific journals towards “depth” and details, while limited data availability and timeliness often hinder the development of solid evidence. On the policy side, while some research fills an immediate need (such as microsimulations of taxes and benefits), other data and analyses translate into recommendations less easily. Also, commissioning research or showcasing indicators may take the place of actual policy efforts: demonstrating awareness of inequalities, for example, is certainly easier than finding viable ways of redressing them. Participants agreed that open-ended and curiosity-driven research remains indispensable to provide the grounds on which more targeted and application-oriented research can build. Research formats that directly address policy and practice, such as policy evaluations, can also initiate further exchange beyond delivering immediate results.


    Presenting “readable results” requires dedicated formats and some know-how, which in many academic contexts remains unrecognised. While media provide enormous support for disseminating results, they also exert their own pressures for quick, simple figures that may obscure more subtle insights. Informal contacts and meetings (or even “safe spaces”) provide good opportunities to exchange views and mutually adjust expectations. Successful interactions require skilled people, dedicated spaces and times, and recognition of the specifics of various research, policy and practice fields, as well as patience and persistence.




    The August meet-up hosted eight presentations:

    Laurène Thil of HIVA KU Leuven discussed the challenges posed by the recent European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) 2021 for Belgium, stemming from changes to the questionnaire that have made it impossible to analyse certain topics.


    Irene Provvidenza of Wise Town, a division of TeamDev software house, presented a set of applications designed to enhance and optimise the use of city data. TeamDev’s Thematic Dashboard allows users to monitor, analyse and visualize a wide range of topics such as migration, urbanisation and, social and economic values.


    Cristina Fernandez of Fedesarrollo presented research on measuring informality in the Colombian economy. Informal businesses and workers are found through combining business, household and structural surveys. While the informal sector contributes to the labour market considerably, stronger enforcement of labour market regulations reduces informality.


    Myrielle Gonshor from the RWI – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research discussed a paper she wrote together with Ronald Bachmann, Piotr Lewandowski and Karol Madoń as part of the UNTANGLED project, showing that the rise in robot installations in European economies increased employment in 2004-2018. The study also found that while the general impact of robotisation on employment was positive in the EU, it was stronger in countries with lower labour costs.


    Klavs Ciprikis of ESRI presented preliminary results of a case study performed within the UNTANGLED project and focusing on the blockchain sector in Ireland. The study explores inequality, employment and skill patterns in this sector and finds a disconnect between the blockchain sector and higher education institutions, as well as a gender gap.


    Caitlin Allen Whitehead at the University of Cape Town’s Development Policy Research Unit presented preliminary results of a case study performed for UNTANGLED on policies implemented in South Africa to stimulate the growth of the business sector, which is well positioned to create inclusive growth. With the right policies and training in place, the sector can absorb young, inexperienced workers and help them acquire transferable skills.


    Andrés García Suaza, Universidad de Rosario, presented his research on the impact of immigration from Venezuela on the Colombian labour market, showing that 1.8 million migrant workers are mainly employed in the informal sector.


    Isabelle Rabaud of Université d’Orléans presented tentative results of her study on migration and skill supply, carried out as part of UNTANGLED. On the supply side she found that migrants coming to the EU typically are in their late 30s and 40s, and do not have higher education; currently they mainly find employment in medium-skilled occupations. At the same time the demand for digital skills, management skills and some soft skills is growing in Germany and France.


    The collected slides are available here.


    The date of the next Café will be announced soon. Please check our website and social media for announcements.


    Third UNTANGLED Open Virtual Café


    The June meet-up hosted eight presentations:

    Bagryan Malamin of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences presented a recently published paper, “Are Translators Afraid of Artificial Intelligence?”, written jointly with Vassil Kirov. The authors performed their own empirical survey of Bulgarian translators’ attitude towards AI, and the results suggest that most perceive artificial intelligence and automation as threats to their profession. However, the authors argue, AI and digital technologies will instead relieve human translators of the routine part of the job, so the quality of work in the profession most probably will not deteriorate in the near future because of digitalisation. The results could serve as the basis for further research on the impact of digitalisation on other creative professions.

    Giorgio Brunello of the University of Padua and Patricia Wruuck (European Investment Bank) presented the results of research in progress (a draft paper) that they’re conducting jointly with Desiree Rückert and Christoph Weiss of the European Investment Bank. The authors are analysing firm-level data and have found that as employers invest in advanced digital technologies (ADT), spending on training decreases. Possible reasons could be that (i) ADT modifies the tasks associated with labour, such that less training is required; (ii) hiring new skills directly from the market is more attractive to firms than investing in re-skilling; (iii) ADT reduces the unit costs of training.

    Christoph Weiss & Désirée Rückert of the European Investment Bank presented the policy implications of a report recently published by the EIB on the adoption of digital technologies, including the finding that a substantial share of EU SMEs did not invest in digitalisation compared to US firms. In addition, a second report, recently published by the EIB and EPO, found that EU SMEs seem to lag behind their US counterparts in deep tech innovation.

    Fabrizio Pompei of the University of Perugia presented tentative results of a qualitative case study on Machinery Manufacturing and Food Industry in Italy (joint work with Chiara Acciarini of the University of Rome 1). The case study is part of research performed within the UNTANGLED project and combines quantitative data with assessments by representatives of employers’ associations, unions, managers and ministry officials. In line with existing empirical evidence from other EU countries, the case study supports the finding that robots and the implementation of other technologies so far have not been harmful for employment levels.

    Roberta Capello of the Politecnico di Milano presented evidence from a freshly published paper (co-authored with Camilla Lenzi and Elisa Panzera) on the diffusion of three value creation models of the digital service economy i.e.: the product-service economy, sharing economy and online service economy across European regions, and how the prevalence of different models affects regional wage inequalities.

    Arthur Apostel of HIVA-KU Leuven presented the LAMARTRA project, which aims to assess the impact of the transition to a low-carbon economy on the Belgian labour market; he also discussed some of the ongoing methodological challenges of identifying “green” skills and “green” jobs.

    Mikkel Barslund of HIVA-KU Leuven talked about ongoing work dealing with the measurement of digital skills in labour force surveys, and presented a methodological multi-step approach to the issue.

    Zaakhir Asmal of the University of Cape Town (Development Policy Research Unit, DPRU) presented a call for papers for the 6th IZA/World Bank/NJD/UNU-WIDER Jobs and Development Conference, to be held in Cape Town in December 2022.

    The slides from the meeting can be found here

    The virtual café format allows for the exchange of ideas and informal discussion of hypotheses, ideas, developing and ongoing projects with other experts from the fields of globalisation, digitalisation, demographic change, work and employment.

    The next Open Virtual Expert Café will take place on 31 August 2022, from 4-5.30 pm CEST. Register here to present your work (one slide, 5 minute time-slot), or to just listen in and join the discussion.


    First UNTANGLED Expert Workshop


    During the event, held on 25 March in Vienna, the participants discussed eight papers that delved into how these three megatrends are changing labour markets in the EU.


    The majority of the presentations addressed the impacts of technology (robots, intangible capital, ICT investment) on various dimensions of inequality: makeup of the labour force; labour market transitions by age, gender and skill; and gender pay gaps. Additionally, the impact of ageing on job polarisation and capital formation was addressed.


    The papers show that findings from the European economy are more diverse than from the US. We seem to need a great deal more research into intervening variables such as labour market institutions, production regimes and regional specialisation if we are to explain these differences.


    The lesson from the presentations is that indicators of exposure to technology, although nice and simple (especially IFR data on “robots”), only address a very specific use of technology. For now, they do not appear to be good at capturing networked or systemic effects of connected ICT or ICOT (information, communications, and operations technology). Other indicators such as ICT capital, although broader, also fail to cover all aspects of “digitalisation”. For the remainder of the labour market, adverse effects of technology exposure were found on gender pay gaps; employment shares of older workers, especially older women; and sometimes on the middle skill and income groups. Relations between types of technology investment also vary on the regional level.


    The very unevenness of the findings, and in some cases the absence of significant relationships, may suggest that exposure to “robots” or investments into digital technology are actually embedded with all kinds of other, less circumscribed labour market dynamics and changes, as comparative technology and workplace studies do indeed suggest.


    This unevenness also makes it difficult to draw conclusions and formulate policy advice. Still, participants made a valiant effort. So far, investment into training and retraining is still a good idea. It seems that such investments should be aimed not just at manual workers performing routine tasks, as in the past, but also at middle-income workers. Older workers in particular may need training. However, if labour market polarisation continues it will also be crucial to address such issues as in-work poverty and minimum incomes. Actions will be needed to create secure environments for workers to reskill.

    One of the papers found that on the company level, adjusted gender pay gaps widen in the presence of performance-related pay, robots and a lower share of women employees. While adoption of robots boosted wages, men benefited more than women. Hence, neither technology nor incentive-based pay schemes appear to render payments more equal between the genders. However, if performance-based pay schemes accompany investments into a company’s economic competences, this narrows the gender pay gap, which may indicate the value of collective bargaining.


    Looking at task groups, age groups and countries, the findings show that robots don’t directly replace workers. It seems that the effects of robot exposure vary with labour costs in each country, having the strongest stabilising effect on employment in countries with lower labour costs such as CEE economies. Again, it is not necessarily workers who perform predictable repetitive tasks, for instance those on production lines, who are at risk of losing their jobs, so (re-)training efforts should not necessarily focus on them. Rather, middle income groups face some effect – and as robot technology becomes cheaper and more widespread, stronger effects on this group may simply be delayed. The share of tech manufacturing in each country may also play a role. Finally “automation risk,” appears to contribute to income inequality in many countries, although the effect varies.

    First UNTANGLED workshop materials:

    Agenda Untangled Expert Workshop
    Abstracts Untangled Expert Workshop
    Foster Untangled Expert Workshop
    Perugini Untangled Expert Workshop
    Bachmann Untangled Expert Workshop
    Albinowski Untangled Expert Workshop

    Second UNTANGLED Open Virtual Café


    The February meet-up hosted three presentations:

    Vassil Kirov of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences presented a recently published paper, “The digitalization of service work: A comparative study of restructuring of the banking sector in the United Kingdom and Luxembourg”, written jointly with Andreas Kornelakis of King’s College London and Patrick Thill of LISER. The study shows that banks in both countries continue to take differing adjustment paths to digitalisation, in line with their different industrial relations regimes. In UK banks, digitalisation led to job losses whereas in Luxembourg lay-offs were limited while training and re-skilling increased.


    Astrid Schoeggl of the Austrian Arbeiterkammer (Chamber of Labour), the organisation that represents the interests of 3 million Austrian employees and consumers, introduced “Digifonds”, a programme supporting various research, development and practical projects in the area of participatory digitalisation (and digitally enabled participation).


    Michela Vecchi of Middlesex University Business School presented the results of the research she conducted jointly with Catherine Robinson of Kent Business School on the impact of Covid-19 on the existing skill mismatch in the UK labour market. Overall, graduates in the UK during the pandemic had fewer shifts in occupations than average, possibly because their jobs were more amenable to working from home. Still, a good amount moved from employment or self-employment into unemployment.

    The slides from the meeting:

    The virtual café format allows for the exchange of ideas and informal discussion of hypotheses, ideas, developing and ongoing projects with other experts from the fields of globalisation, digitalisation, demographic change, work and employment.


    The next Open Virtual Expert Café will take place on 21 June 2022, from 4pm – 5.30 pm CET. To register to present your own work (one slide, 5 minute time-slot), or to just listen in and join the discussion, please click here to register.

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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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