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Globalisation, Digitalisation and the Future of Work & Skills

On Thursday 16 January 2020, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized a public seminar on ‘Globalisation, Digitalisation and the future of work and skills’. During the seminar several people shared their knowledge, ideas and experiences about one of the major topics in international debate: the future of work – in light of the rapid developments in digital technology that are taking place. This is definitely one of the bigger challenges of our time.

Two keynote speakers where invited to share their views. Professor Richard Baldwin, a leading expert in international economics took us on a thought-provoking journey into the world of white-collar robots, telemigrants, telepresence, globotics, Artificial Intelligence and Remote Intelligence and how this fourth wave of globalisation will fundamentally affect the labour market, particularly the service sector. Along the journey, it became crystal clear that we need to reshape our skills to be prepared for these future developments and to be able to reap the benefits. To reflect on this, Andreas Schleicher Director of Education and skills of the OECD was invited to hold the second key note speech. Mr. Schleicher is an international authority on education policy and reform.

So what’s ahead of us? A Fourth Industrial Revolution? Globalisation 4.0? One thing is sure, rapid technological and digital advances are radically changing the way we work and live. The future of work will heavily depend on digital technology. Whether we call the current economic era the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Globalisation 4.0, three things are clear:

  1. Digital technology is taking another great leap forward which affects both globalisation and automation.
  2. Digital technology is a game changer. It changes not only the type of jobs that will be available in the future, but it also involves a serious shift in the necessary skills for these future jobs.
  3. The next stage of globalisation is characterised by fast-growing digital trade in services and data, and this will radically change our economies.

In the process, we have to make sure it’s an inclusive, accessible and secure game, particularly for young people and women in low- and middle income countries.

In the Netherlands policy of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation working on prospects for young people through education, work and income is a central theme. We have a wide range of programmes to support education, employment and youth entrepreneurship. For example, the Netherlands recently launched the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment that aims to provide prospects for 200,000 young women and men via decent work and income in Horn of Africa, Sahel, Middle East and North Africa; where large numbers of young people are entering the job market each year and youth un- and underemployment is extremely high. 

What does Baldwin’s and Schleicher’s lessons mean with regard to skills within our programmes? Baldwin made it clear: the industries of the future are industries without chimneys: agrifood and services, IT, tourism . So, service-led jobs. However, young people in developing countries have little perspective without foundational skills (numeracy, literacy). But they need other skills as well: High order cognitive skills, social emotional skills: problem-solving, critical thinking, team-work. Skills for lifelong learning. Or as Schleicher puts it: We should never forget that education is always more than preparing young people for jobs. We used to learn to do the work, now learning is the work.

The nature of work is constantly reshaped by technological progress and digital innovation. It means that investing in human capital is crucial. Only then people can build their future, by updating the skills needed to navigate the changing labour market and participate in a changing world. Investing in skills, life-long learning and matching youth career aspirations with the changing realities of tomorrow’s economies and societies are key priorities if we want to realise the Sustainable Development Goals.

H.E. Ambassador Jean Pierre Karabaranga, Social entrepreneur Dalia Yusif and Professor Marleen Dekker joined the two key-note speakers in a panel and rightly so put the emphasis on young women as well as young rural youth in low- and middle income countries. This is an important remark of the panel as a relatively large number of women perform office and administration tasks that can easily be automated, while women are under-represented in growth sectors where new jobs are being created, such as in the green economy, the IT-sector, and the gig economy. This is widening the gap between men and women in different sectors.

However, according to a recent World Bank report, lower-skilled and lower-educated workers in Sub-Saharan Africa have the potential to benefit from digital technologies in ways that are different from other regions of the world. Provided that these technologies will be adopted widely and sensibly, taking into account the whole digital ecosystem: an enabling environment of people, processes, and technology. To reap the benefits of digital technologies, African countries need supportive policies and investments to ensure sufficient market competition and to improve skills, the World Bank report says. They also need better physical and digital infrastructures, as well as extended social protection. Only then can digital technologies help businesses reduce their costs and prices, enabling them to expand their production and, most importantly, create more jobs for everyone – not just the privileged few.