Computers could do every third job

Berlin The digital twin is on the rise. Mechanical engineers or architectural offices use a virtual copy of the planned project in order to be able to work more efficiently. All those involved follow the construction progress in real time. If there are delays somewhere, the use of materials and personnel as well as the time and cost plan can be automatically adjusted. Fewer employees are needed in process management or financial planning, while a colleague’s computer takes over.

The digital twin is just one example of how new technologies are finding their way into business life and changing the world of work. Almost all materials can be printed with 3D printing today, from plastic to metals to glass. So it is possible that fewer milling machines will soon be needed.

New fields of activity are emerging because products can be customized like never before. And with blockchain technology, jobs in sales and distribution or in the finance and insurance industry can be automated.

The Institute for Employment Research (IAB) has now investigated for the third time after 2013 and 2016 what effects the advance of new technologies can have on the labor market. In their study, the researchers Katharina Dengler and Britta Matthes assume that in 2019 around 11.3 million or a good third of all employees subject to social insurance will be working in an occupation with a high potential for substitution.

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This is the case when 70 to 100 percent of the activities typically performed there can also be taken over by computers or computer-controlled machines.

Automation potential has increased significantly over the years

Compared to the preliminary studies, the automation potential has increased significantly again, albeit a little less dynamically than before. In 2016, only a quarter of employees worked in jobs that can easily be done by machines, compared to just 15 percent in 2013. Traditional manufacturing occupations are hardest hit.

This also explains why the potential for substitution in classic industrial locations such as Baden-Württemberg or Saarland is above the national German average. However, the situation in the manufacturing professions has hardly changed since 2016, while the share of activities that the computer can potentially also take on has increased the most in the security industry or in retail.

The IAB is also observing a sharp increase in the potential for substitution in occupations for skilled workers and specialists, while the number of helper activities has only increased slightly since 2016. The researchers attribute this to the fact that technologies have become market-ready in recent years that can also replace more complex activities – for example automated decision-making processes such as “neural networks”.

Dengler and Matthes point out, however, that the potential for automation is not synonymous with the threat of job losses. Whether humans are really replaced depends on many factors – for example, on the question of whether their use is not more economical than that of an expensive machine or whether ethical considerations in certain fields oppose the use of computers or algorithms.

BA board member Daniel Terzenbach

Do an apprenticeship and then sail through to retirement, that will no longer work.

(Foto: imago images/Future Image)

The spread of new technologies also creates new jobs. Between 2016 and 2019, more than 200 activities were added to the 8,000 activities list that is used to classify occupations. 30 new professions have emerged, for example e-commerce clerk or professions in UX design.

Further training can prevent upheavals on the labor market

In its forecast for the “digitized world of work”, which was updated in February of this year, the Federal Labor Ministry assumes that around 3.6 million new jobs will be created and 5.3 million will be lost by 2040. A third of the loss has nothing to do with technological upheavals, but with demographic development and the dwindling labor supply.

The Federal Employment Agency (BA) is convinced that structural change and digitization need not lead to major dislocations in the labor market if the right course is set at an early stage: “The high potential for automation in a whole range of industries and professions makes it clear once again how crucial permanent further qualification and targeted training will be for future employment, ”says board member Daniel Terzenbach. Completing a professional qualification or studying and then simply “sailing through” to retirement – that will no longer exist in the labor market of tomorrow.

“The further increase in the potential for substitution underlines that we in the companies are increasingly challenged to actively shape the transformation,” emphasizes Detlef Gerst, Head of the Future of Work on the Executive Board of IG Metall. In addition to training and further education, strategy development and investments are necessary in order to open up new employment opportunities with digitization.


The SPD, the Greens and the Left want – should they be involved in the future federal government – enforce a right to further training and also support it financially. The Union promises to expand further training, enable the unemployed to gain qualifications and establish a culture of lifelong learning.

The Liberals are planning to support older employees with a “midlife student loan” in their qualification, to involve the universities more closely in further training activities and to give vocational training a digitization update.

More: These are the three retraining courses with the best job opportunities.


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