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IRPP study shows new technologies have had little impact on the nature of work — so far

January 27, 2021 Print

Montreal — In recent years, ground-breaking developments in artificial intelligence and robotics have led to speculation about their profound implications for jobs and the world of work. According to a new study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, major leaps in automation technology over the past decade have not yet caused notable shifts in the nature of work in Canada, but the situation bears monitoring.

Based on new Statistics Canada research, Kristyn Frank and Marc Frenette examine recent changes in the mix of tasks that make up jobs and the mix of jobs in the economy overall. They find that nonroutine cognitive tasks gained in importance between 2011 and 2018. But these changes were modest — ranging from a 1.5 percent increase in the importance of establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships, to a 3.7 percent increase in analyzing data or information.

Looking more broadly at trends in employment shares by occupation, Frank and Frenette note a gradual shift in the past three decades away from occupations based on routine manual tasks toward those involving nonroutine tasks that are hard to automate. They find that the pace of change was, however, no more pronounced in the past decade than in previous decades.

The most notable differences the authors found were along gender lines: the employment share of workers in managerial, professional and technical occupations increased overall, but much more so for women than for men. Between 1987 and 2018, the employment share in these jobs grew by 9.8 percentage points for women, compared with a gain of 5.2 percentage points for men. Men, on the other hand, were more affected by the general decline in employment in production, craft, repair and operative occupations (an 8.3 percentage point decrease compared with a 3.6 percentage point decrease for women).

Also surprising, at first glance, is the significant decline in the employment shares in managerial, professional and technical occupations for workers with post-secondary education. According to the authors, this is likely due to the sharp increase in the proportion of workers with post-secondary credentials, which may be pushing some of them into jobs for which they are overqualified.

Frank and Frenette’s main conclusion is, however, that definitive declarations about the changing nature of work are premature. And although events such as the COVID-19 pandemic may lead employers to adopt automation technology more quickly than they would have done otherwise, the exact nature and extent of these changes remain to be seen and should be monitored.

Ultimately, policy-makers need to keep an eye on how Canadian jobs evolve as new technologies continue to be integrated into the workplace. This way they will be able to respond if need be, and based on evidence, to changes in the demand for skills and the consequences for the labour market.


Are new technologies changing the nature of work? The evidence so far, by Krystin Frank and Marc Frenette can be can be downloaded from the IRPP’s website (irpp.org).

The Institute for Research on Public Policy is an independent, national, bilingual, not-for-profit organization based in Montreal. To receive updates from the IRPP, please subscribe to our e‑mail list.

Media contact: Cléa Desjardins, tel. 514-245-2139 cdesjardins@nullirpp.org

Are New Technologies Changing the Nature of Work? The Evidence So Far

Are New Technologies Changing the Nature of Work? The Evidence So Far

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Media Contact

Cléa Desjardins
Communications Director
Tel. 514-245-2139 • cdesjardins@irpp.org