Project Untangled

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Project Untangled



    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.

    First UNTANGLED Open Virtual Café


    Vassil Kirov presented the H2020 project BEYOND 4.0, which takes a closer look at the impact of new technologies on the future of jobs, business models and welfare with a focus on emerging new jobs and workplace innovations.

    Ursula Holtgrewe introduced INCODING, which looks at ways of shaping algorithmic management through social dialogue to retain or improve workplace democracy and job quality.

    Ludivine Martin presented insights from DIGITUP on the impact of the COVID-19 first lockdown on the use of digital tools among teleworkers in Luxembourg.

    The slides from the meeting:

    Inspired by the presented projects and common research interests, the group explored the impact of homeworking during and beyond the pandemic. It appears that previous experience with homeworking and remote working helped companies and workers. Variation in working hours and time saved on commuting may be favourable for workers (unless these hours are just added to working time or were eaten up by increased workloads in childcare or elderly care during the pandemic). However, remote collaboration and leadership remain challenging, especially where co-workers and collaborators do not know each other personally.

    The next Open Virtual Expert Café will take place on 3 February 2022, from 14-15:30 CET. Register here to present your own work (one slide, 3 minute time-slot) or to just listen and join the discussion. Click here to register.

    Introductory Webinar



    2:05 – 2:20 UNTANGLED: teasing apart the impacts of technological change, globalisation and demographic change (Karolien Lenaerts, HIVA-KU Leuven)

    The webinar started with a brief introduction to the UNTANGLED project and our partners, highlighting the key questions we aim to answer and our approach to doing so.We discussed the project’s outputs and impacts with the audience.


    2:20 – 2:30 Ways to get involved with UNTANGLED and help us ensure our research is relevant (Ursula Holtgrewe, ZSI)

    This contribution showed how UNTANGLED will interact with stakeholders and interested parties, and introduced our series of online and live events.


    2:30 – 2:40 Interactive session: participants’ areas of interest (Martina Lindorfer, ZSI)

    2:40 – 2:55 Does the wisdom of human resource management still apply in a digitalised work environment? (Ludivine Martin, LISER)

    The presentation gave an overview of recent research by Ludivine Martin and her team at LISER regarding the importance of human resource management practices in a work environment shaped by digital transformation.


    2:55 – 3:10 Are routine tasks getting old? Job tasks and demographics in Europe (Piotr Lewandowski, IBS)

    The twin forces of technological progress and globalisation are changing the nature of work, and driving the shift away from routine work and towards non-routine work. However, they affect younger and older workers differently, contributing to inter- and intra-generational inequality in a surprising way.


    3:10 – 3:30 General discussion

    Below is a link to the entire webinar on the UNTANGLED YouTube page.


    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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