On 10 and 11 November 2015, the Luxembourg Presidency, with the support of the European Commission, organised a conference entitled 'Digital Economy: Let’s be ready for the new Jobs!' During the first day of the conference, decision makers, social partners and experts discussed the digitalisation of the economy and its impact on employment, public policy responses to this challenge and the role of the European Social Fund.
During the first conference session on 10 November 2015, the speakers addressed the consequences of the digital economy on job creation and loss within the EU. In that regard, Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg's Prime Minister and Minister for Communications and Media, stressed that 'the challenges are enormous' within the EU, particularly in terms of digital skills, a problem also raised by the other speakers.
Above all, the EU has a problem in terms of digital skills
In his opening speech, Xavier Bettel explained that the challenges relating to the digitalisation of the economy and its impact on employment 'are enormous'. He believes that, above all, the EU has a problem in terms of digital skills ('e-skills'). Many businesses do not move to Europe as they cannot find adequate labour supply in terms of digital skills, he stated, adding that 'it is for the education system to respond'. 'If we create new jobs, we need training that corresponds to these new jobs', added the Minister, lamenting the fact that within the EU, a lot of training is no longer attuned to the realities of those new jobs', and that often, young people do not know them.
The Minister also highlighted 'a problem of mentality' in Europe with 'the finger pointed at people who are declared bankrupt', which he believes has an adverse effect on the spirit of initiative.
In that regard, he stressed the importance of public and private sectors working together and for digitalisation to be addressed in a horizontal manner. 'Therefore, on the day before the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council in December, we are hosting together with Commissioner Oettinger a dinner for key players in the telecommunications and IT sector, as well as Ministers for Labour, Education and Research, in order to facilitate a broader discussion on this matter', he stated.
Lastly, Xavier Bettel rejected the idea of 'putting the brakes on IT development for fear of losing jobs'. 'Other continents will bank on the digital change, and end up imposing their system and way of life on Europeans', he warned. 'We must embrace the change and face this challenge ourselves', he stated.
The digital change must not be limited to economic and technical considerations, but must also include considerations relating to the world of work
'Digitalisation has changed our society and our economy worldwide and will continue to do so in future', declared Andrea Nahles, Federal Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, Germany.
She believes that the digitalisation of the economy has 'called into question traditional business models and increased competitive pressure'. She takes the view that only by working together can Europe succeed in the face of competition from the United States and Asia. 'In the future, our growth and competitiveness will largely depend on our ability to address together the digital change within Europe in all its complexity', she stated.
Referring to the Digital Agenda for Europe and the Commission's package of measures for a digital single market, Andrea Nahles stressed that the digital change must not be limited to economic and technical considerations, stating that it must also include considerations relating to the world of work.
According to Andrea Nahles, it is a matter of addressing the question of mankind's role in the economy of the future. Citing fears about job losses, she stated that in the past, each time a digital change had taken place, the same fears had existed, but had proven to be unfounded.
The speaker considers that the digital change will be beneficial for disabled people and will enable monotonous tasks to be avoided. Moreover, the change will allow for increased flexibility in the workplace and with regard to working hours, which she believes will serve to reconcile work and family.
'Rather than bringing digitalisation to a standstill, it is a question of shaping it so that it is compatible with mankind', stated the Minister.Consequently, she deems it necessary to include considerations relating to the world of work in the Digital Agenda for Europe.
Lastly, Andrea Nahles explained that digitalisation involves several 'questions for the future':
- How to maintain the rights of workers in a world of digital work?The speaker calls for the implementation of European minimum standards.
- How to maintain data protection?
- How to ensure that training corresponds to current needs?
- How to define flexibility in order to impose clear limits? In that regard, she underlined the risk of mental disorders linked to work intensification and constant accessibility.
In the future, work will increasingly focus on 'quality'
John Straw, a leading authority on emerging technologies, referred to five technological fields which he believes will cause 'disruption' to the economy: artificial intelligence, 3D printing, advanced robotics, virtual reality and, lastly, the internet of things. He explained that, in the future, work will increasingly focus on 'quality': digitalisation could mean that unpleasant tasks are left for machines, thereby freeing up creative and personal care tasks for human beings.
In the near future, 90% of jobs will require a certain level of digital skills
Zoltán Kazatsay, Deputy Director General for DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion, pointed out that the number of workers in high-technology industries and services has increased by 20% between 2000 and 2011 and that, by 2020, there will be 825,000 job vacancies for ICT professionals.
The speaker reiterated the statements of Xavier Bettel, referring to the gap between skills required on the labour market and those acquired by jobseekers in the EU. He stressed the importance of finding a solution to this 'skills gap' by improving the education system. 'In the near future, 90% of jobs will require a certain level of digital skills. However, approximately 40% of EU citizens have only a limited or non-existing level of digital skills', he observed.
In order to find a solution to this problem, Zoltán Kazatsay stressed the importance of using the European Social Fund, the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs and the Agenda for new skills, which will be presented by the Commission in 2016.
Involving employees' representatives in discussions on introducing digital technologies
Thomas Fischer, from the Confederation of German Trade Unions DGB, explained that trade unions are not yet ready in Europe for 'hybrid production methods' because 'they are often divided into old branches of industry which do not reflect the economic reality'.
The speaker acknowledged that digitalisation is an opportunity to create more humane and less strenuous jobs. Nevertheless, he warned of the risks of mental disorders linked to digital performance tests in the world of work. He believes that another problem is that increasingly fewer people are protected by employment contracts due to the increase in self-employed workers.
Lastly, he stressed the importance of involving employees' representatives in discussions on introducing digital technologies.
'Digitalisation will be what we make of it'
'Digitalisation will be what we make of it', declared Bruno Mettling, Deputy CEO of Orange, author of a report commissioned by the French government on the consequences of digital transformation on world of work which sets out several recommendations for the digital change.
He highlighted the importance of discussing digitalisation in order to 'anticipate the risks' and 'strike a balance'. Among the risks, he pinpointed, in particular, the conditions linked to the isolation of teleworkers and the 'excessive connectivity' of workers outside working hours. He also observed that digitalisation destroys a significant number of jobs in 'fields dominated by women', while the stereotypes that exist in some countries are such that it is mainly men who focus on technical careers.
Alongside the digital change, the speaker stressed, in particular, the importance of digital education at all levels, promoting education in making good use of digital tools, and adapting employment legislation.