Technological automation and impact on the African labour market

Question

How will changes in technology and automation affect the labour market in Africa?

Summary

Estimates of how many jobs are vulnerable to being replaced by machine vary but it is clear that developing countries are more susceptible to automation compared to high-income countries. Traditionally, blue-collar routine jobs have been automated but with the emergence of greatly improved computing power, artificial intelligence and robotics, a much larger scope of occupations are at risk. Vulnerability to automation is now based on whether jobs or tasks are codifiable and whether they are routine or not. Highly-trained and skilled jobs can be more at risk than more varied, lesser skilled jobs. This rapid literature review found that whilst there is evidence, information and discussion of the impact of automation on the labour market in industrialised nations, there is much less on the potential impact in developing countries. The World Development Report 2016 Digital Dividends (World Bank 2016) was an excellent source of data and many of the figures presented are from this report. Whether you are a “techno-optimist” or a “techno-pessimist”, the impact of automation on the labour market will require long-term adjustment and policy changes to ensure the future of work is inclusive and sustainable and addresses increasing income inequality (Gelb and Khan December 2016) in an ever more automated and digital economy.

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Suggested citation

Millington, K. A. (2017). How changes in technology and automation will affect the labour market in Africa. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.