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20 November 2018

Finland: new challenges on the labour market in the age of artificial intelligence

The Finnish government has set up a steering group within the frame of its Artificial Intelligence Programme to examine how to turn harness artificial intelligence for commercial success. Among the five sub-groups, one working group is dealing with the transformation of work and society. Preliminary findings of the group include the suggestion that every working-age person should have a skills account or voucher to help them access training.

The ministry of economic affairs in Finland recently published a report called ‘Work in the age of artificial intelligence’, which included some policy recommendations. The report is part of an Artificial Intelligence Programme set up by the ministry. The report suggests that society must invest in updating workers’ skills, facilitating workforce mobility and generating innovations that complement human labour in order to harness the potential of artificial intelligence. A steering group was set up in May 2017 to prepare the country for reaching its goal of becoming a global leader in the use of artificial intelligence (AI). In the meantime, the group published two interim reports with a number of recommendations.  

A first report of the artificial intelligence working group published in late 2017 had already formulated eight key actions and related recommendations for taking Finland towards the leading edge of artificial intelligence. The first report was dominated by the search for how to stay competitive and other business environment related issues. However, at the end of the first report, it was noted that a cross-party social policy strategy was needed that could bring about a ‘good artificial intelligence society’. The strategy had to be based on the active renewal of societal and labour market structures, ensuring that the positive impacts of artificial intelligence are realised.

A second report, published in the summer of 2018 (and now available in English), contains four main sections. Each section is an independent part prepared by working group members in different compositions, with the participation of academics, trade unions and employers, as well as senior government officials. The report discusses (1) the effects of artificial intelligence on general economic and employment trends; (2) the transformation of work and the labour market; (3) reforms on education and skills maintenance; and (4) ethics. The authors share the view that the importance of a well-functioning labour market will be a key condition in its success. The report quotes studies estimating that artificial intelligence will destroy some 15% of jobs by 2030 and change the nature of work in a considerably larger proportion of tasks. Those estimates recommend the retraining of one million workers.

This is reflected in one of the working group’s proposals: a lifelong-learning reform where every person of working age would be given a skills account or voucher that they could use to update their skills and prepare for new competence requirements. Employees, employers and society together would bear responsibility for updating workforce skills. This would create a demand-based market for education and training. Another observation is that digitalisation can lend more direction and meaning to employees. However, therefore workers must have the possibility to influence the introduction and application of new technologies. The report says that so far there is hardly any ‘ownership’ or workers’ voice in this area in a majority of the workplaces.

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