Labor Minister Heil wants to allay employees’ fear of AI

Munich, Berlin Hubertus Heil takes an electric drill in his hand, sinks a screw into the metal component and looks at the screen. The display lights up green, everything is okay. On the second attempt, the Federal Minister of Labor was a bit hesitant, the angle wasn’t right, the display turned orange – not ideal.

On Tuesday, the SPD politician will have a demonstration of how artificial intelligence can make everyday work easier in the newly opened “AI Studio” in Munich. The software detects whether the screw angle and torque are correct, whether the washer was inserted correctly and whether the employees need a break. The highest precision of the drilling is important, for example, in battery packs for electric vehicles, otherwise the cars could burst into flames.

Like Heil, decision-makers and employees from small and medium-sized companies should also be able to find out about practical AI applications in the future. Here, in the first stationary AI studio in Munich, and in a second one that is scheduled to open in Stuttgart towards the end of the year. The rest of the republic is served by AI buses that tour the country. The concept was developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering and Organization (IAO) in Stuttgart.

The Minister of Labor is convinced that no company or employee can avoid the issue. His company’s digital experts assume that every workplace will be affected by artificial intelligence by 2035.

In addition to enthusiasm for what is technically possible, this also fuels fear of losing one’s job. The aim is to “reach millions of employees,” said the minister. Because: “If there are reservations about AI, we lose speed.”

How quickly will AI reach the world of work?

It is not yet clear whether the change will really take place as quickly as the Labor Minister imagines. “The initial euphoria seems to have faded a little, the demand in companies is apparently saturated for the time being,” says Ingo Isphording, research director at the Institute for the Future of Work (IZA) in Bonn.

A McKinsey study shows that the proportion of companies and organizations using AI applications almost tripled between 2017 and 2019. In the past three years, however, the proportion has remained between 50 and 56 percent.

Nevertheless, experts are convinced that technology will change the world of work. The ChatGPT developer OpenAI assumes that 80 percent of employees in the USA could be affected by large language models like those developed by the company in at least ten percent of their tasks.

That’s why many people are unsettled, says Joachim Schnell, works councilor at auto supplier ZF, in the Munich AI studio. “AI is the big elephant in the background.” The fear of job loss among the workforce in the factories is greater than among employees in the office.

AI application ChatGPT

The large-scale application of language models can transform many professions.

(Photo: Reuters)

But scientists warn against dramatizing the situation. “Since the rise of artificial intelligence in the world of work, there have been both fears of massive job losses and more optimistic perspectives that see jobs as a bundle of different activities, only parts of which can be automated,” says economist Hendrik Send from the Berlin Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and society (HIIG).

Read more about artificial intelligence

IZA researcher Isphording also emphasizes that there is no easy yes or no answer as to whether a job might be lost due to AI or not: “Depending on the tasks being performed, AI can help make employees more productive or it can replace them.”

In the Munich AI studio you can see, among other things, how production planning can be simplified. Or how offers from different companies can be easily compared when purchasing. But there is also something for craftsmen who can use AI to create three-dimensional views of furniture. And all this with a program that is free for you.

Overall, the Labor Minister believes that no jobs would be lost due to AI. Nevertheless, many people would have to reorient themselves: “AI will also replace qualified jobs,” says Heil. For example, routine activities in industries such as the insurance industry or quality control in production are considered particularly at risk. But AI can also relieve journalists or software programmers of a large part of their work.

>> Read here: Labor Minister Heil also wants to bring “Colleague AI” into small companies

But it is not necessarily true that higher-skilled jobs are particularly at risk from the use of AI, said Stijn Broecke, senior economist at the OECD, an industrialized countries organization. In contrast to semi-skilled and unskilled workers, their task profile often includes activities that cannot be easily automated. AI could make qualified workers even more productive.

According to the OECD’s latest Employment Outlook, which is based on surveys in seven industrialized countries, a fifth of employers in industry and the financial services sector assume that the number of employees in their own company will actually grow through the use of AI. The proportion that expects the need for personnel to fall is slightly higher.

More than half of employers do not expect any personnel changes

More than half expect no change. But here too, concerns about their own jobs are evident: 60 percent of employees surveyed by the OECD stated this fear.

Whether the technical disruption also leads to upheavals in the labor market depends on whether and how employees are prepared for the change.

Unfortunately, it is often observed that employers invest too little in AI training, criticizes ZF works councilor Schnell in Munich.

From the perspective of IZA researcher Isphording, however, we need to start much earlier: “In order to become more productive through AI, employees need sufficient basic skills in solving problems or critical thinking.” This knowledge must be taught primarily in schools.

Labor Minister Heil wants to help convey knowledge about AI and its practical applications. By the end of 2024, around 2,300 companies will be reached in 250 events.

More: Bosch is planning its own AI for its employees

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