On October 10, Stepan Zemtsov, Senior Researcher of the Innovation-Driven Economy Lab, the Gaidar Institute delivered a report:  “Structural Shifts in Employment amid the Digital Transformation in Russia” at the Efimov Readings at the Russian Academy for Foreign Trade of the RF Ministry of Economic Development.
In his report, the expert pointed out that the mass media had recently paid a great attention to the topic of the potential technological unemployment because of the development of new digital technologies and automation of manufacturing and services.  For description of those processes, some experts started to use the term “robocalypse”.  

Stepan Zemtsov touched upon some scenarios where unemployment risks would increase. In case of implementation of the scenario of the digital transformation of employment which is included in the “Digital Economy” and “Promotion of Labor Efficiency” national projects, retraining of a large number of experts will be required. At the same time, the share of the employed in the informal and entrepreneurial sectors may rise fr om 37% to 50% by 2024. 

However, this scenario is highly unlikely because the model of the Russian labor market limits the digital transformation processes; enterprises use partial employment and low-cost labor and have an insufficient level of introduction of new technologies (4 industrial robots per 10,000 residents against 85 robots per 10,000 residents in the world), to say nothing of institutional limitations. 

The risks of technological unemployment are not currently very high, but the model of the labor market in question leads to greater lagging and a loss of the competitive edge of the economy, so the speeded-up modernization will required one day (the experience of the AvtoVAZ). In such a case, a gap may arise between the exponential implementation of technologies accompanied by the layoffs of the workforce and adaptation processes: retraining, re-skilling and creation of new jobs in other sectors. A portion of the population in regions which are badly hit by those processes will happen to be unprepared to learn and use the new knowledge and technologies, re-skill and take ongoing training and, consequently, there is a risk of expansion of the economics of ignorance. Right now, ≈80% of the employed in Russia are not prepared to work on highly competitive and technologically complex markets (BCG, 2017). Later, regions with old-type industries and services can be formed.  

The institutes and cultural norms limit regions’ adaptation to structural transformation carried out through the development of entrepreneurship.  But there are prerequisites for a large-scale introduction of modern technologies. For example, in some sectors in Russia the level of trust to robots is higher than abroad: a judge-robot is trusted more than a judge-person.

Summing up the result, Stepan Zemtsov said that mass unemployment  on the back of the digital transformation   was highly unlikely in Russia as the very perception of labor was changing and the new forms of off-the-book employment  and partial employment (precarization) emerged, that is,  self-employment, freelancing, redundancy and other. However, there are regions wh ere the risks of formation of the economics of ignorance are much higher, so the strategies of adaptation need be developed right now.

Presentation to the report