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Home News The digital transition: A new agenda of work security

The digital transition: A new agenda of work security

08 January 2016
The digital transition:  A new agenda of work security

In the direst predictions, the digital revolution will leave many of us workless, losing our social rights and distant from the huge capital gains enjoyed by technological entrepreneurs. In 2013, a study by Oxford academics Carl Frey and Michael Osborne found that 47 per cent of total US employment is at risk of computerisation. John Maynard Keynes’s famously cheerful vision of a robotised society in which leisure will abound looks more like a dystopia for a majority of people valuing work, human service and a sound relation to nature.   

Closing a series of substantive essays on progressive governance in a ‘high-risk, high-opportunity’ era, Policy Network this week focuses on the tools and policies that can ensure workers are able to adapt to the jobs of the future, and to protect them against the inequalities technological change creates.

Deputy prime minister of the Netherlands Lodewijk Asscher warns that new technologies risk eroding the middle class, which has historically served a crucial role in offering those in the lower echelons of society a perspective to move up in life. Because opportunity should “remain a luxury everyone can afford”, Asscher invites us to “embrace innovation in our own terms”. Rather than seeking to compete with robots, governments should invest in adaptive skills and social innovation. Progressives should embrace more forceful measures towards work security, fundamental training rights and wealth redistribution.

Eurofound’s Enrique Fernández-Macías identifies three labour market challenges facing European policymakers. Against the risk of job polarisation, he suggests following Nordic best practice characterised by the strong involvement of trade unions in companies’ strategies. Against the risk of divergences between countries, EU-level coordination and redistribution mechanisms have become necessary. In the long term, radical measures should be contemplated in order to contain inequality resulting from robotisation, such as the basic universal income, or the extension of robots’ ownership to all workers.

Pierre-Yves Geoffard, of the Paris School of Economics, stresses in particular the need for education systems to prepare young people “not just for business today, not even the jobs of tomorrow, but for the training of tomorrow that allows them to constantly adapt their skills to an ever-changing job world”. Geoffard also observes that many workers are at risk of losing their social entitlements and their ability to access the housing market unless governments radically reshape social protection.

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