23 November 2016

Unleashing digital skills in the 4th industrial revolution

by Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility

The world of work is transforming. Across Europe, many fear that increasing automation and digitally-powered business models will destroy jobs and put workers in a race against machines.

I believe however that digitalisation, if steered correctly towards our principle of social fairness, can be a force for better quality work, unleashing higher productivity and helping to finance more and better social security. Data shows that most of our workplaces have improved. Many jobs have become more interesting and engaging. And, the share of workers receiving paid training grew from 26% to 38% in 10 years. Of course, this is essential because during the same period, the share of workers who declare that they face complex tasks at work increased by a corresponding 50%.

These additional opportunities are real – however, new forms of work can also be linked to lower and less predictable incomes. And while young people may be quick to embrace new flexible forms, they too – like the generations that came before – share the aspiration to progress towards stable careers and incomes that enable them to lead independent lives. We need to be alert to the risk of fragmented and unfair practices.

An immediate risk is the gap between ‘great jobs’ and ‘lousy jobs’.  Automation and digitisation are likely to accelerate such polarisation. To address these divides, we need to make our labour markets places where workers and employers feel safe to take risks. We need to support smooth transitions on the labour market, whether from job to job, to self-employment or to further training.

To succeed in transitions, we need to improve our skills systems. The Commission has put forward in the New Skills Agenda a proposal for better skills intelligence – understanding skills bottlenecks and anticipating needs, including through stronger business-education partnerships. Education needs to be more responsive to labour market needs.

Moreover, the European Commission’s work on a “European Pillar of Social Rights” is an important contribution to addressing challenges of the digital economy by trying to anticipate and influence new trends. Is the European social model fit for purpose for the 21st century? And how can we make the European social model future-proof? Making sure that labour markets are fair and function properly today and tomorrow is at the heart of this debate that is taking place across Europe until the end of the year and I look forward to the European Young Innovators Forum’s contributions before I launch proposals next year!

The article was initially published on www.unconvention.eu.