Globalized workers: trends and tensions

04, November

International labor markets are going through a process of profound transformation. Trends and tensions coexist, ...

International labor markets are going through a process of profound transformation. Trends and tensions coexist, translating into a social boil that demands urgent action from policy makers.

By Martin Padulla for staffingamericalatina


“It is expected that gradually we will be able to impose on our culture, modifications that better meet our needs and escape those criticisms,” Sigmund Freud said in his work The Upset in Culture published in 1930.

Unfulfilled expectations and a deep crisis of representativeness has been a problem for millions of people in Latin America. The most unequal region on the planet is living in its own way, its own spring.

The slowdown of the regional economy is a fact. While Asia is expected to grow on average 5.9%, for Africa to grow 3.2%, our region will grow only 0.2%

Oliver Strienkel, Professor of International Relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, Brazil, argues that “the financial, political and intellectual elite of Latin America has not been able to monitor and understand what is happening in societies.” It may not have been different in other regions of the world.

Between 2000 and 2015 Latin America notoriously reduced their levels of inequality. However, the end of the commodity boom and the economic stagnation have generated a significant crisis of expectations, mainly in the urban middle classes. The growing demands for more and better access to education, health, public services and the labor market have resulted in this boiling climate in the streets.

The slowdown in the world economy, the decreasing growth in China and the decline in the price of commodities do not seem to favor Latin America.

On the other hand, the streets of the world are not calm either. Similar phenomena can be observed with some differences in their motivations in France, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Russia, Ukraine, Albania, Serbia or the Middle East, to name the most relevant.

Is capitalism in crisis? Or are politics failing to transform themselves in order to be up to the new challenges that the 21st century has brought us?

For a few years now, I have been focused on the challenge of education and work in the 21st century. And especially its connection concerns me, the possibility of a fluid dialogue between both dimensions throughout the life of an individual. Technology,  fundamentally the empirical evidence that indicates that we will have physical and cognitive fullness for a longer time, have functioned as engines of this development. For a long time I have visualized that the lack of equal opportunities and the obsolescence of the regulatory frameworks linked to the education and work dimensions,will have unimaginable consequences.

The phenomena of exclusion, poverty and inequality in an intellectual economy require, as a basic and essential first measure, to guarantee access to education. However, it is not about guaranteeing access to education but rather a revised and innovative concept, which includes equality to access various forms of knowledge acquisition. It is not about focusing solely on the traditional education based on an initial formation, a middle education and a higher education. It is about understanding a training process throughout the life of the individual, in collaborative environments, with a strong incidence of technology and high stimuli to critical thinking, creativity and innovation.

The world of education needs to reinvent itself, especially educational systems, in their entirety. 21st century education must become the engine f each country’s plan. The ability of a nation to generate knowledge is linked to its development potential. Reducing the competency gap between the knowledge generated and the one demanded by its productive system should be the main objective in which various state policies of a country converge.

Regarding work, the classic labor relationship of the twentieth century does not explain the reality of the societies nowadays. The new forms of work that offer valid alternatives for the new lifestyles and career development of citizens, do not fully take into account the requirement of coverage. To the extent that the labor market modifies its morphology, reforms regarding social protection become evident, essential, urgent, especially if we consider the notorious increase in freelancers.

For many years now, we have maintained that the balance between flexibility and security is the solution. Private employment services may be the clear example, through ILO Convention 181, that diversity can be achieved by combining both dimensions, making significant contributions to employment formality and employability. The platforms begin to take note of this, begin to understand that in addition to job opportunities they must offer safety frameworks and professional training. An app today can both offer access to a local, regional or global market at a click away and also, in many cases, a legal vacuum and lack of rights for those who develop through them.

Citizens’ demands will only be covered through a renewed concept of work, with modern and inclusive regulatory frameworks, which contemplate public-private articulation, the formation of skills based on demand on a permanent basis and digital transformation . The possibility of choosing grants freedom.

The technological revolution must be humanistic and for this we must put algorithms at the service of our societies. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, robotics, among other technologies, must have an important role in the future of education and in the world of work. Policy makers must acquire with utmost urgency, sufficient sophistication to create regulatory frameworks aimed at ensuring that technology improves the quality of life of our societies and takes care of the private data of citizens. We need more modern, flexible, portable rights, because they must contemplate new phenomena.

The Nordic countries seem to be the best interpreters of the future of education and the future of work. Decades ago they created the golden triangle between the worker, employer and user company, energizing and modernizing labor markets. They were the pioneers of the concept of flexicurity that later became a global phenomenon through the development of private employment agencies that contributed significantly to the creation of quality employment and increased employability.

In Sweden, the public employment service that traditionally articulates with private employment services (as has been the case for decades in Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) has advanced in promoting JobTech, an open digital infrastructure that allows people who are looking for work and those who have job offers to connect more efficiently. In the same country, AppJobs is a startup that consolidates platform work for skilled workers and has developed AppJobs Institute taking into account the need for Longlife Learning for the development of people and companies in an environment strongly influenced by technology and platforms.

These are initiatives that should be taken into account as they might be an input for the co-creation of our own futures.

It is possible to reduce societies tensions produced by changes because of the pass of time. The possibility is closely linked to the concept of social innovation. Addressing these challenges with past models will only increase them. The discomfort in culture in the 21st century is actually the discomfort that produces a profound cultural change not noticed by public policies or by those who develop them.

If this discomfort translates into something new, in that process of creative social innovation that will lead us to adaptation, the boil will not have been in vain.