News Release

Perennially vulnerable workers are also those most exposed to further automation in the workplace, study shows

June 29, 2020 Print

Montreal – Faced with a post-pandemic recession and new operating constraints, firms may decide to lessen their reliance on human labour by adopting new technologies. While a new wave of automation will not necessarily eliminate jobs, it may substantially transform them, forcing workers to adjust to a new reality. As a new study published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy in collaboration with Statistics Canada shows, further automation is likely to affect certain groups of workers more severely than others.

The study, by Statistics Canada researchers Marc Frenette and Kristyn Frank, is the first to identify the workers facing a high risk of seeing their jobs transformed by automation. With more than 10 percent of Canadian workers facing a 70 percent or higher probability of job transformation (and close to 30 percent of workers at medium risk), policy-makers need to have a better grasp of the demographic and employment characteristics of workers who are most exposed.

Education is an important element, as more than a third of workers without certificates, diplomas, or degrees face a high risk of job transformation, compared with fewer than 4 percent for those with degrees. And regardless of their educational attainment, workers with lower levels of literacy and numeracy are at higher risk.

The share of workers at high risk of job transformation also decreases significantly as employment income levels rise: in other words, workers with the lowest incomes are most likely to be at high risk. Age comes into play as well, with a greater share of workers aged 18-24 and 55+ in the high-risk category. At the same time, the probability of being at high risk does not vary on the basis of gender, immigration status, having a disability, or being a member of a union.

“While there is ample research on the risk of occupations being affected by automation, before our study little was known about the workers who hold these jobs. Given the targeted nature of many employment-support programs, understanding who is at risk will inform discussions on policy development, both now and in the future,” the authors note.

For IRPP research director Natalia Mishagina, the study puts a human face on the topic of automation and holds important insights for policy-makers in Canada. “To assess the potential impact on workers of a new wave of automation, we need to know who is most at risk.  Speculation that new technologies may affect highly skilled workers previously immune to automation appears to be unfounded. Just as in previous decades, it is less-educated and low-paid workers who are most likely to see their jobs transformed. Since these are the same groups of workers who typically have had difficulty adjusting in the past, policy-makers should look for new solutions to more effectively support them,” she says.

The Demographics of Automation in Canada: Who Is at Risk? by Marc Frenette and Kristyn Frank can be downloaded from the Institute’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 email list.

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

The Demographics of Automation in Canada: Who Is at Risk?

The Demographics of Automation in Canada: Who Is at Risk?

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Media Contact

Cléa Desjardins
Communications Director
Tel. 514-787-0737 ext. 324 • cdesjardins@irpp.org