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Digitalisation Has Little Effect on Employment

In the period 2013 to 2015, staff numbers at Swiss companies hardly changed as a result of digitalisation. Over one third of the companies managed to improve their competitiveness. Most popular are technologies raising production efficiency (e.g. ERP), social media and e-procurement. These are the first results of a new survey on digitalisation.

In conjunction with the Chair of Labour and Organisational Psychology at ETH Zurich and the School of Applied Psychology at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, KOF has conducted a representative survey to assess the state of digitalisation in the Swiss economy. The study, which has recently been published, presents the first results of the survey. Further analyses will follow.

Many companies (close to 60%) believe digitalisation is not affecting their competitiveness. However, 35% reported a better competitive position, while as little as 2% stated that their competitiveness has declined. Particularly companies in the modern services sector reported improved competitiveness. Broken down according to size, especially medium-sized and big companies mentioned an improved market position.

In the period 2013-2015, digitalisation had little effect on employment figures at Swiss companies: 76% of the respondents stated that there has been no change. 12% of the companies reported a decline and 11% an increase in employment due to digitalisation. A glance at qualification requirements shows that certain changes have taken place: in net terms (difference between reported staff increases and staff cuts), companies recorded an increase in graduates from universities of applied sciences/technical colleges and candidates with vocational qualifications. A slightly lower net rise was reported with regard to university graduates. In contrast, the trend among semi-skilled/unskilled workers appears to be negative. These developments are particularly present in large companies, while increased demand for individuals with vocational qualifications is more prevalent among smaller companies.

About the survey

In autumn 2016, a representative survey on the diffusion of digitalisation was conducted among close to 4,000 Swiss companies with over 20 employees. More than 1,180 companies in industry, construction and the service sector participated (response rate: 30.1%).

The survey was conducted by the KOF Swiss Economic Institute at ETH Zurich in conjunction with the Chair of Labour and Organisational Psychology at ETH Zurich and the School of Applied Psychology at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland. Initial analysis was carried out on behalf of the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation.

Of the 24 digitalisation technologies listed in the survey (see pdf version (PDF, 346 KB)), ERP and e-procurement is applied by over half of the companies, followed by CRM tools (47%), social media (45%) and telework (42%). These technologies are most prevalent in large companies which are also more frequently employing complex modern technologies, such as robots (28%), RFID (23%) and the Internet of Things (18%). Although the technologies are applied in all departments, they are more common in administration, marketing and procurement. Between 2013 and 2015, Swiss companies spent over 16% of their investments on digitalisation.

In response to the question about obstacles to the introduction of digitalisation technologies, the respondents predominantly stated lack of available qualifications and too complex work processes. Small companies also mentioned lack of funds. Among big companies, another obstacle consisted of technological complexity.

A German version of the study «Digitalisierung in der Schweizer Wirtschaft: Ergebnisse der Umfrage 2016 – eine Teilauswertung im Auftrag des SBFI» by Spyros Arvanitis, Gudela Grote, Andrin Spescha, Toni Wäfler und Martin Wörter can be found here (PDF, 679 KB).