The world has rapidly changed during the last two years marked by the global pandemic and our society took a big leap forward to integrate the use of digital technologies in people’s daily lives. Even before the crisis, the impact of new technologies often dominated the public discourse around framing the future of work. Thus, we aim to analyse in this article how new digital technologies can pave the way towards the future of work.
Many companies have accelerated the embrace of new technologies and automation in their business models in order to cope with the impact of the pandemic and to improve operations in areas such as:
- Data capturing: Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can streamline repetitive processes by capturing data from various documents or requests
- Customer service: using chatbots to interact with customers
- Administration: using cloud solutions and remote access infrastructure to keep employees connected to their work from everywhere
- Analytics: using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) for analysing the present model to make various predictions to become more relevant
- Manufacturing: using robots to decrease the workload by raising the quantity of production
What automation brings to the future of work?
Automation boosts productivity, saves time, and offers workers the opportunity to concentrate on more creative, meaningful tasks, helping achieve a better work-life balance. The 2020 Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that, by 2025, the time spent on day-to-day tasks will be equal between humans and machines. Automation is expected to complement humans to carry out tasks that require almost perfect accuracy in performing duties (e.g.: diagnosys, analysis or predictions based on past models).
The infusion of novel technologies at the workplace raises new questions: How do we remain competitive for the future of work? How do we keep up with society’s constant and rapid developments?
Although one cannot precisely predict the manner in which new digital technologies will shape the labour market, the Governments worldwide are able to set standards through policy-making, to ensure a solid framework for the future of work. It is already emphasised that automation will bring a shift in the working behaviours, and the booming economy will adjust in order to maximise productivity, to focus on skills-building and to enhance workers’ efficiency in delivering better results. In order to create equal opportunities and accessible options on the labour market, the public policies on these issues will have to manage the transition required by the shifts in the working process in the short and long terms.
Actions and policies promoted at European level to leverage the potential of the future of work
The European Union (EU) has taken a significant stance in promoting innovative tools and policies, such as the launch of Europe’s Digital Decade including the digital targets to be achieved by 2030, the Recovery and Resilience Facility and its objectives on digital transformation, or the Coordinated Action Plan on AI which tackles technology development through four key areas: increasing investment, making more data available, fostering talent and ensuring trust. Such EU policies are meant to set up a framework able to help employees and national governments to use EU funding in order to maximise the opportunities in building a future-proof working environment where digital technologies will strengthen and augment the capabilities of workers, leading at the same time to their constant upskilling and reskilling.
One concrete response to tackle the ways in which companies are dealing with digital challenges and developing a competitive work environment are the European Digital Innovation Hubs. The services provided by such hubs include a variety of aspects ranging from innovation services, trainings, meetings with experts to financial advice at national and European levels. Thus, member states are encouraged to achieve a strong cooperation and to develop multi-country projects to foster innovation and productivity, as it is also emphasised in the EU Digital Decade Plan.
Developing Future-ready Skills
In order to be prepared for the future of work, we need to start by developing future-ready skills. According to the Digital Economy and Society Index Report 2021 – Human Capital, 56% of the European citizens have only basic digital skills, based on the 2020 data. In addition to the target on basic digital skills (80% of people) established in the Digital Education Action Plan and the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, a Digital Compass proposes to reach by 2030 a target of 20 million employed ICT specialists in the EU, with convergence between women and men. At the same time, by 2030, according to the targets set by the EU Digital Decade Plan, 80% of the EU citizens should have basic digital skills. The proposed targets are very ambitious and therefore such standards could be achieved by using a more structural approach on public policies that tackle lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling, especially towards digital competences in every field of activity.
Furthermore, as the study-work-retire model is beginning to fade in the light of the digital era, lifelong learning becomes more and more important. Learning should not be limited to a period of time in our lives and it is important to emphasise that we can benefit from both formal and non-formal education throughout different stages of our lives. Bearing this in mind, lifelong learning refers to all purposeful learning activities undertaken on a regular basis with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences.
The aforementioned WEF report highlights that the skill gap will continue to increase in the next five years, as employers will be looking for persons that stand out through their critical thinking, problem-solving ability, self-management, resilience, adaptability, or flexibility. The same report identifies a series of in-demand jobs, such as data analysts, automation specialists, big data specialists, and robotics engineers.
The effect of automation on quality employment will be influenced by the rhythm in which workers can be retrained or integrated into the labour market by migrating to higher-skilled jobs. To ensure an inclusive digital transition for people, it is critical to create a context where employers can successfully develop opportunities to upskill and reskill the workforce. Creating a context relies on the shaping of public policies and the financial resources available to invest in human capital. In order to create the perfect environment for ensuring more inclusiveness for people that have different levels of competencies, it will be essential to prioritise redesigning tasks and finding practices in which humans and machines will complement each other. It is also acknowledged that in order to elaborate an action plan which would allow a smooth transition towards the future of work, we need sector-specific policies that can address in a tailored manner the skills, competences and major issues needed for the employees in every field. Without such efforts, employees’ skills will become outdated, and they won’t be able to contribute appropriately to the business development. Furthermore, employees need to feel confident about using new technologies.
Employees are seeking purpose and creative ways to bring added value to the business. It is easy to understand how new digital technologies are offering a safe framework for people to work on tasks that need creativity, communication and that tackle human relations. Welcoming new digital technologies would imply that the private sector will have the opportunity to develop a human-centric approach that will offer employees more control over their work and environment, making them more aware of the strategic commitment of the company. The work experience can be improved if the managers accept the opportunity of leveraging technologies.
At the same time, the OECD estimates that 14% of jobs are at a high chance of automation and 32% are expected to undergo significant changes. To cope with such challenges, employers should conduct a skills gap analysis and ensure that employees are equipped with the right skills to help accomplish the company’s objectives. For example, when prioritising digital transformation, businesses should include skills development programs for role-based learning plans such as RPA developer or data analyst. This model must be continuously updated to mirror new objectives and digital targets.
The way forward towards future of work
The transformation process towards ensuring a solid framework for the future of work is not yet finalised. Transition is an important step that rests on the shoulders of governments that have the responsibility to shape tailored sets of measures which could smoothen and fasten the adoption of the future of work, and at the same time businesses will have to embrace a human-centric approach by leveraging new digital technologies technologies to prepare their employees with the proper skills and mindset. A new deal should be promoted: humans embracing technology gradually, while benefiting from training and further support from their management. Future of work should become an approachable concept, setting inclusive standards by normalising the concepts of lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling that will help not to leave anyone behind.
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