Thursday, July 9, 2020

Work and digitization

One of the main exponents of the new forms of inequality and its associated challenges in the workplace. Forecasts for the future of employment are troubling. Researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, in their study The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerization, predicted that 47% of US workers could lose their jobs to automation. The World Bank, for its part, predicts that two-thirds of jobs in developing countries are capable of being automated.

Also, according to the McKinsey Global Institute's A Future that Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity report, nearly half of the activities for which wages equivalent to $ 15 trillion are paid in the global economy have the potential to be automated. This would affect a total of 1.1 billion employees, more than half of them from China, India, Japan, and the USA. Something that is usually perceived as a threat to employment, although in reality, less than 5% of the jobs identified in the report are capable of being fully automated.

In Spain, 21.7% of jobs are at risk of automation and another 30.2% may undergo a tremendous transformation caused by the technological revolution, according to the latest OECD report. Our country faces a complicated scenario, and only Greece, Slovenia, and Slovakia present a May risk, among the 36 economies that belong to the OECD.

Some of the estimates are already dated. In 2022, 75 million jobs could have disappeared worldwide, although, in turn, 133 million new jobs could be created that would require new qualifications. It is estimated that more than half of the jobs of the future do not yet exist, and much less is known, but the consensus prevails that they will be related to the digital revolution. Although there are several theories about the future of work, it seems clear that we are approaching a job market where many people with digital knowledge, computer science, programmers of robotic systems and artificial intelligence will be needed.

The World Economic Forum, in its report The Future of Work of 2018, influences this vision of the coexistence between the human and robotic employees. It deepens the need to retrain workers and improve their skills so that they are not displaced by machines, but learn to lead and use them. Managerial profiles will be required for this.

Both Spain and countries at risk must strive to train their citizens to take on the new roles offered by the labor market. The idea that lifelong learning or training "throughout life" is necessary to be prepared for the changing dynamics of the labor market. The problem, as the OECD warns, is that in Spain only 32% of self-employed workers, 45% of temporary workers, and 56% of indefinite and full-time employees participate in some type of training a year.

Likewise, work is mutating towards the so-called “small jobs economy”, a new employment relationship in which employees are hired on time for sporadic jobs that not only provide their labor, but also everything necessary for the activity (a bicycle, car or computer).

In his report Working for a brighter future, The ILO explains the need to articulate new mechanisms to safeguard the minimum rights of employees in the “small jobs economy” and proposes, among other measures, a minimum number of guaranteed hours and to compensate the variable hours with a premium for a job uninsured, in addition to remuneration for waiting time to cushion the periods in which workers are "on-call". Other measures recently approved by the European Parliament to improve the conditions of these new workers with atypical contracts or specific jobs have been the prohibition of trial periods exceeding six months and exclusivity clauses, the right to compensation in the event of cancellation late assignment of work and the right to free and compulsory training, among others.

An economic model that has emerged thanks to new technologies is the so-called "collaborative economy". It is estimated that in the year 2025, these digital platforms, through which users contact each other to exchange goods and services, will invoice 335 billion euros worldwide, representing a growth of 2,000% in a decade. In Spain, half a thousand companies operate within this segment, many of them start-ups in fields still to be regulated. The business of these companies (Uber, Cabify, Blablacar, Airbnb, among other companies) in our country represents between 1 and 1.4% of total GDP, although it will be at 2.9% within six years.

In this context, companies face digitization and technological change with uncertainty, a scenario that can be avoided with a new technological approach that continues to replace the most arduous and repetitive tasks, but at the same time opens the door to other employment opportunities. And training. A more promising labor market that guarantees adequate labor rights is also required. For this to happen, all actors must participate in the debate and decision-making about job automation. Companies that are leading the way in automation can help mitigate the negative repercussions by fostering debate about what kind of future is being designed and investing in programs and opportunities to develop new skills.

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