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The future of work

More digital piecework, less job security

München, 12/04/2014

The rapid advance of digital technology has huge repercussions for the future of work. LMU economist Professor Arnold Picot calls for a new regulatory framework that addresses the ongoing changes in the working environment.

Foto: william87 /

Digitalization is changing working conditions to such an extent and at such a pace that a new approach to labor law and a restructuring of social security is urgently needed: “Our current social security system is not at all equipped to cope with the consequences of technological change,” says Arnold Picot, Professor of Economics and Head of the Research Unit for Information, Organization and Management at LMU in an interview on the future of work.

“There won’t be enough salaried employees to maintain the classical pension system as we know it.” The proportion of freelancers will rise significantly. Firms will seek the skills they happen to require at any given time, and recruit appropriately qualified workers from a worldwide pool. “Hopefuls in Indonesia and Bavaria now compete for the same assignment. In many sectors, we already have what amounts to a global labor market.” A new legal framework is required for the regulation of this type of market, in which crowd-sourcing platforms on the internet often act as middlemen in allocating tasks to freelancers across the globe. “In principle, everyone who sits in front of a computer screen is on an electronic leash, because it is perfectly possible to discover when, where and how long he or she is actually working,” Picot points out.

He also forecasts that the world of work will become more and more polarized. “The jobs most at risk are those that involve repetitive routines, such as sorting, searching or calculating.” For careers that involve cognitively challenging tasks, on the other hand, the outlook is much more positive. “In areas such as the planning of complex undertakings, where experience, associative thinking and social interactions are required, automation is difficult and remains unlikely,” says Picot. For this reason, he stresses the importance of remodeling vocational and professional training to take account of, and keep up with, the pace of technological change. “There is no point in training young people for occupations that will soon disappear,” he says.

The concept of work-life balance is also unlikely to survive. For technology is progressively muddling the boundaries between one’s work and one’s private life: “The ability autonomously to determine how one’s work should be organized will continue to grow, and we will have to learn to cope with the fact that work and non-productive activities are less clearly separated from one another,” Picot concludes.

Seldom offline, always on a leash
As the relentless advance of digitalization alters the contours of our working lives, will digital piecework soon dominate the job market?


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