Workshop: Comparing digitalisation of work in Northern European countries


  • Bertil Rolandsson, University of Gothenburg
  • Johan Røed Steen, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, Oslo
  • Jon Erik Dølvik, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, Oslo

Since the 1960s, growing use of ICT technology at work has been foreseen to replace employees and change the demand for skills in the remaining workforce. Despite earlier concern for the end of work, alienation, deskilling, and degradation of labour (Braverman 1977; Gorz 1984; Rifkin 1991), a dominant view has been that ICT-driven changes at work strengthen the demand for skills and highly educated labour (Skilled Biased Technological Change, Katz and Murphy 1992). While the latter entails an optimistic view of ICT prompting upgrading of work , the pessimistic perception of skills and job polarization has recently gained support from the thesis of Routine Biased Technological Change (Autor et al. 2006 ) implying that current leaps in digital tools and artificial intelligence enable automation and replacement also of cognitive routine work in the middle of the occupational structure. Since many non-routine, labour intensive, and customer-reliant jobs, for instance in personal services, do not lend themselves to technological rationalization and demand is enhanced by rising incomes in the upper end, several studies, notably from the US, have predicted continued growth in low-skilled, simple jobs. The predicted rise in the top, hollowing out in the middle, and growth in the low end has revived the old debate about polarization or bifurcation of the jobs and skills structure. Yet, the demand for and supply of different kinds of labour and skills are not determined by technology alone but are contingent on market conditions and a range of institutional factors related, for instance, to wage formation, education/training, welfare services, taxation and macro-economic policies. The impact of digitalization on work may thus vary across countries, industries, and labour market systems.

Juxtaposed to the US-biased literature, we have in this workshop emerging from a project on the Nordic Future of Work invited papers comparing how the past years of digital change have affected patterns of jobs, skills, work organization, and employment relations in northern European countries. Combining quantitative mappings of changes in the overall occupational structure of employment with qualitative, actor oriented analyses of developments in traditional work, i.e. manufacturing, on the one hand, and novel forms of work mediated through digital platforms, on the other, the aim is to shed light on how the impact of digitalization is influenced by variations in the interplay between technology, institutions, economic cycles, and social actors across different labour markets.