The digitalization of jobs promises to unleash an unprecedented wave of global prosperity. But this will not happen without strategic planning and tactical steps on the part of companies, governments, non-governmental organizations and individual workers.
Will digitalization destroy jobs, create new ones, or both? URBAN HUB looks at how we must all work together to prepare for – and manage – the immense workplace changes that digitalization is bringing. That way, we can all reap the benefits.
Successful employees will need future-proof skills, and individuals must take a proactive approach to their own development. Success in navigating the future of work will rely heavily on individual action, and on a positive mental attitude. Lifelong learning encapsulates that. While children will still go to school and – later – to apprenticeships, universities or trade schools, formalized learning will continue throughout one’s working life.
Some of this training will be provided directly by employers. In addition, however, a growing number of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and short, targeted programs offer so-called ‘microcredentials.’ And these are already proving that virtually anyone can learn a new skill quickly and easily, and in the comfort of their own home.
So anyone – everyone – can ‘upskill’ themselves. You can do it right now. Learn to code, for instance: it’s free! But if it were that simple for everyone to actually do, then there wouldn’t be a problem. That’s why individuals need the help of public and private organizations, so that no worker is left behind.
For years, we’ve thought of our work-lives in terms of before (education/ training), during (career), and after (retirement/pension). In the future, we may instead think of paid labor, training and free time as holistically integrated parts of our daily lives.
Source: Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2014 and 2015
Guy Ryder, Director-General, ILO
We’ll need successful companies, too. Successful companies already take corporate service and responsibility seriously. Now, they are also taking the lead in encouraging and enabling both retraining and upskilling for their employees.
Companies are also using “design thinking” to better understand technology and make it user-friendly for customers and employees. By focusing on the employee experience, companies are making it simpler and easier for workers to adjust to digitalization. This both empowers them and gives them a greater stake in creating successful outcomes – for themselves and for their company.
This means that companies will be increasingly clever about how they provide training. More and more of it will resemble video games, using consumer-grade technologies to provide learning that looks a lot like play. For other training, smart companies are already providing tuition credits or other incentives to support the lifelong learning of their people.
The strategic decision-making power of the Human Resources (HR) department will also need to be upgraded. It will increasingly rely on big-data analytical tools to more accurately assess both current skill needs and coming trends. HR also has a crucial role to play in developing flexible arrangements that better allow for the separation of workplace and work-life, so that employees can do their jobs wherever they are.
While serving as Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, Robert Reich was a strong advocate of new technologies, and of assisting workers to learn how to use those. This video provides a look at his solutions to the workplace challenges of today.
But neither individual workers nor individual businesses can manage digitalization alone. So businesses will increase their involvement in cross-industry cooperation, public-private partnerships and labor union collaboration. Labor unions, universities and industry associations, in particular, have an industry overview that no single person or company – especially smaller ones – can match.
Simply put, everyone has skin in the game. Every company needs skilled workers. Questions like, ‘What skills will be needed?’ or ‘how will we develop those skills?’ demand a concerted effort and a collaborative approach. Economies of scale will improve the process and lower the cost of coming up with clever, workable solutions.
And somewhere in the mix, there will need to be involvement from organizations specialized in the creation of meaning, including ideas of community and democracy. Non-governmental organizations, charities, foundations and religious denominations must all be included in meeting the tsunami of societal change that is headed our way.
Despite an unwavering belief in technology as an engine of progress, The Economist believes that governments must actively manage the impending changes posed by digitalization, with ambitious, visionary and decisive planning and action. Learn more in this audio interview.
Clearly, we all have a lot of work to do. But no one has more work than governments. Consider education: the role of government begins early. Investment and experimentation in curriculum reform can help children more easily acquire the cognitive, social and behavioral, and technical skills they will need to thrive in the digitalized workplace.
Successful countries will also promote Danish-style “flexicurity”, bringing together the need of business for hiring and skill flexibility, with the need of workers for economic security. The European Union has made flexicurity an official component of its employment strategy.
The idea of flexicurity includes labor market reforms, including tuition assistance. The SkillsFuture initiative in Singapore provides a training credit account for all adults over the age of 25. Generous additional government subsidies are also available for all from age 40. The credits may be flexibly used for a wide range of training or education, from basic to advanced. Additional government initiatives might also support purchasing power through tax credits, wage subsidies or even the much-discussed basic income. Bill Gates even suggests that we tax robots to help pay for the necessary programs.
Encouraging participatory democracy will strengthen civil society and assist in a harmonious transition to full digitalization. Investment in housing, transportation and other urban infrastructure will boost trust in the institutions of government and their ability to adequately address the challenges we face. Increased access to the Internet will also help ensure that no one is excluded from the digitalized workplace.
Workers, employers, governments and others need to collaborate and experiment to smooth the transition to digitalization, and thus ensure that the process is successful. The alternatives – large-scale wage stagnation, redundancy or barriers to labor-market entry – are a recipe for xenophobia, protectionism, extremism and civil unrest.
The promise of digitalization is real. Jobs can become more fun, less arduous, less tedious and more rewarding. In theory, digitalization could also lead to more leisure time, improved public services and a dramatic improvement in quality of life for everyone. It is a unique opportunity for all of us, but we must work together if we are to truly profit from it. Let’s get busy!