Waterford researchers awarded €3.5m to use algorithmic insights in study of unemployment

Dr Aisling Tuite, WIT; John Halligan, Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research & Development; Dr Zeta Dooley, WIT; Dr Ray Griffin, WIT

Project to address potential of Big Data analysis on labour market

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2 December 2019 | 0

A Waterford Institute of Technology research team has been awarded €3.5 million in EU Horizon 2020 funding to study unemployment algorithms.

Led by Dr Ray Griffin, the project which is titled HECAT: Disruptive Technologies Supporting Labour Market Decision Making, uses sociological and anthropological insights on unemployment and expertise in national statistical and learning algorithms to develop new ways to visualise the labour market.

Increasingly, governments are using artificial intelligence, predictive algorithms and risk-modelling to make decisions in relation to unemployed people. However, these models are built by data scientists and software coders who may know little about working with unemployed people. That’s where HECAT comes in; it aims to make data trapped in public employment systems and national statistical offices readily available to both unemployed people and those helping them to improve their personal decision-making and visionary future.

Funded under the Horizon 2020 Societal Challenge 6 which explores socioeconomic and cultural transformations, HECAT was developed by Dr Griffin, Dr Tom Boland, Dr Zeta Dooly and Dr Aisling Tuite of the WIT School of Business as part of the Waterford Unemployment/Employment Research Collaborative initiative.

“Everyone is concerned or should be worried about how algorithms and big data is being used in the labour market. We cannot put the technology genie back in the bottle, rather we need to figure out how to make the output from these novel technologies ethical, fair and transparent,” said Dr Griffin. “We need to crack them open sociologically and anthropologically so that traditional researchers can fully understand how they operate and communicate that to the public.”

Commenting on origins of the research Dr Tuite said: “We started studying unemployment in 2012 with a short summer research project for undergraduate students to learn about data collection. From that acorn and with the support of the Irish Research Council and Enterprise Ireland our work is now supported by large scale EU funding – the most significant and prestigious funding available in our field.”

In the past five years, the WIT School of Business has secured €6.7 million in EU research funds. Dr Thomas O’Toole, head of the school said that this project “directly links business research to society, and clearly shows how business research can contribute to new ways of approaching how we organise for social good”.

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