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By Jacques van den Broek This article is part of the Forum Network series on Digitalisation and will feed into ...
Automation, globalisation and workforce ageing spark public debate and concern over the future of work. As the OECD Forum 2019 theme tells us, the world is in EMotion. Society and its leaders are facing the challenge of how they can use these developments to foster economic growth, while at the same time ensuring decent work, fair pay and adequate social security.
In this year’s edition of Randstad’s Flexibility@Work, Maarten Goos and Anna Salomons (Utrecht University & Boston University TPRI) show that in the future of work, automation will actually have a positive net effect on jobs. Advancing technologies are likely to increase total employment by around 0.5% annually.
However, as the authors state in their paper, jobs in the future will not be the same as those of today. Despite an increase in total employment, 1 in 7 individual workers will on average be faced with job loss as a direct result of automation. The changing nature of jobs has been an enduring feature of past waves of technological progress and will ultimately lead to the emergence of three new work types: “frontier work”, “wealth work” and “last-mile work”. Frontier work concerns jobs in new technological fields, wealth work concerns jobs created thanks to increased productivity and last-mile work concerns jobs that cannot yet be automated. Looking even further ahead, the OECD estimates that 65% of the children currently at nursery school will end up doing a job that does not yet exist, such as “vertical urban gardener” or “drone controller”.
New skills and work forms will include everyone
These new jobs will require new and different skills. While the rising demand for hard STEM skills and basic digital skills is well known, there is also ample evidence of a rise in the demand for soft social skills. Crucially, we will need to prepare our educational systems for these 21st-century jobs. In addition, we will need to create seamless public-private partnerships – connecting the world of work with that of education – enabling life-long learning opportunities to support workers in their careers and to help them transition securely to new jobs. Randstad is certainly playing its part in meeting this need for upskilling and reskilling. In 2018 alone, we trained some 300,000 flex workers worldwide.
Meanwhile, new attitudes to work give rise to new forms of work in many labour markets. In their paper, Goos and Salomons show how these new forms of work do not so much replace traditional full-time, open-ended contracts, but rather provide a pathway for the formerly inactive or informal labour force to find a decent job. Indeed, new work forms within the gig economy offer flexible and adaptable models to workers, such as working remotely, flexible hours and a diversity of compensation arrangements and contracts. This has allowed people who never fit into the traditional 40-hour, nine-to-five work-week format to enter the formal workforce.
However, we will need to reform our systems to adapt to this new work-life reality and provide workers with the security they need to successfully manage their careers. To this end, Randstad has developed a “labour market value scan” to assess workers’ experience and skills, on the basis of which we can predict these workers’ future value on the labour market. This scan is not only useful for assessing what skills need to be acquired, but also offers additional insights. For example, in the Netherlands, the tool can be used by banks to judge whether a flex worker can get a mortgage.
Inevitably, change and transitions come with insecurities. Many people are currently experiencing these insecurities. Although macro-level research shows that the future of work will create jobs and bring greater prosperity for societies as a whole, individuals who are facing job losses due to automation or robotisation are not feeling this today. Young individuals who are struggling to enter the labour market may well be sceptical about what the future has to offer.
Our biggest challenge is to make the transition to a new reality beneficial to all. This means embracing technology, without losing sight of the human factor. Instead, technology should be used to augment the human factor. Technology should be used in an ethical and fair way to provide people with the jobs they love and employers with the workers they need. The human factor will always remain crucial. At Randstad, we call this Tech & Touch. Finding the optimal Tech & Touch combination will be vital for a successful future of work.
Work needs to be redefined. We – business and policy-makers alike – need to rethink the way work is organised, and support workers to find decent jobs and achieve a sustainable work-life balance. Current legislation is not always fit for the future of work, as new forms and ways of work require a new perspective. We need to set up a comprehensive programme of social innovation, which should lead to new, integrated solutions for working, learning and social protection for the benefit of workers, employers and society in general. We need to secure equal and full access to labour markets through diverse forms of work, while guaranteeing meaningful and decent working conditions, regardless of an individual’s employment contract. And finally, we need to equip all workers with the skills they need to succeed in the labour market, and implement modernised social protection schemes. Only then will we be able to include everyone in our journey to the future.
As the Flexibility@Work 2019 paper shows, there will be no shortage of jobs in the future of work, but work will change fundamentally. While embracing the future, we also need to brace for change. Shaping a future of work that is more inclusive and rewarding for all calls for a transition agenda and a whole-of-government approach that includes all stakeholders, aiming interventions at those who need them most.