EU-US Young Leaders Seminar

Young leaders from the EU and US met in Brussels on 15-17 April, under the umbrella of the Fulbright Program and the European Commission. It was a resourceful meet, although the highlight remains the dinner at the US Missoin in Brussels and it is the first such event that I have attended which had a yoga session at the start of the day. In this blog, I provide excerpts of the discussion held among us young leaders.

EU-US Young Leaders meet at Brussels to discuss Future of Work

A rapidly changing world: challenges and opportunities

Technological change is transforming the world of work at an unprecedented speed. The automation of more and more tasks, information and communication technology, and Artificial Intelligence are changing the nature, quantity and quality of work.

Aside from technological change, globalisation, demographic change and migration as well as climate change and the transition towards environmentally sustainable economies are major drivers of change in the world of work.

Digitalisation is clearly offering opportunities. These include better use of big data and making sure that the benefits of the new technologies are spread across all segments of the society (reducing regional disparities, creating online single labour markets). New opportunities emerge with the growth of the data driven economy and the use of digital solutions in more and more fields, including the management and recruitment
practices of firms, tracking and surveillance of workers, e-governance and matching algorithms used in the labour market. Along with these developments, a number of ethical questions arise and the protection of personal data becomes increasingly important.

The net effect of digitalisation on employment is likely to be positive. However, a large fraction of current work tasks is at risk of being automated in the coming decades. At the same time, new jobs and tasks are likely to emerge. Consequently, many workers have to either cope with changing requirements within their job, or with more frequent transitions between jobs or occupations.

New forms of work

Labour is increasingly exchanged online, resulting in a growing number of platform and on-demand workers. New forms of work emerge, e.g. through digital platforms and the collaborative economy, with more part-time, freelance and self-employment. The result can be more flexibility and new job opportunities, which allow for a better work-life balance, and supplementary income.

Digital workplaces can facilitate the inclusion of specific groups, for example women with small children or people with disabilities. However, relative to standard wage and salary employment, workers in non-standard jobs tend to have fewer rights to social protection, receive less training, often have weaker career progression, lack access to mortgage and other forms of credit, and face greater insecurity.

New forms of work may also lead to new challenges as regards representation of workers and enterprises.

Shifting skills needs

Continuously changing job requirements and decreasing demand for routine and manual labour creates the need to invest in up- and re-skilling of the workforce and effective career guidance. Education and training systems are challenged to prepare workers for the rapidly evolving world of work. As tasks become automated, employers are increasingly interested in recruiting people with transversal skills. Individuals are required to embrace lifelong learning to build skills for employability and for access to self-employment.

The polarisation of the occupational structure into high-skilled and low-skilled jobs and between open-ended and various atypical forms of employment may entail further polarisation of the wage structure into high-paying and low-paying jobs.

Social protection in the new world of work

Those who are unable to adapt to the changing requirements of the labour market need to be protected by effective social security systems. However, it is increasingly difficult to track work-related income, to distinguish between employment contracts and contracts for services, or to pinpoint the location of working/doing business, which raises questions about the financial sustainability of social security systems in the long run.

The 2017 EU-US Young Leaders seminar provided a space for conversation between young Americans and Europeans. In an informal setting, participants were invited to discuss expectations regarding the future world of work, the impact of fast change on future jobs and careers and the changes affecting work and society.

The seminar was be a forum to generate and test ideas on how the labour markets of the future can be shaped to make sure that as many people as possible will benefit from new developments and to protect those who are left behind.

Young leaders from both sides of the Atlantic were invited to bring views and ideas to this debate, which is currently high on the international agenda.

Here is a summary of what we worked on:

Panel discussion

  • Technology and the Future of Work

Discussion 1

  1. We are witnessing a fundamental transformation of the world of work. Estimates of occupations to be automated range from 50% to OECD estimates of 9%. Will robots steal our jobs?
  2. Doomsday or bright future? Will technological change lead to a decline in overall employment or will plenty of new “tech jobs” be created? What impact on the nature, the quality, and quantity of jobs?
  3. Will the EU and the US be affected differently by technological change?

Panel discussion

  • Skills of the Future Workforce

Discussion 2

  1. In an ever faster-changing world, how can we know what the “skills of the future” will be and how can we make sure to be/remain prepared for the needs of the labour market? Which skills and qualifications are indispensable for success in the 21st century?
  2. Can coal miners become ICT specialists? What incentives are needed for lifelong learning, re-skilling and up-skilling to respond to shifting skills needs?
  3. The bright and brilliant versus the low-skilled? Will occupational polarisation lead to higher inequalities and risk of in-work poverty?

Panel Discussion

  • Social Implications of the Changing Work Environment

Discussion 3

  1. Blessing or curse? Do the new forms of work such as platform work, on-demand work, zero-hour contracts and mini-jobs mean more flexibility and better work-life balance or do they rather lead to precariousness and a lack of social protection?
  2. How can we ensure access to social protection for all, including for the self-employed and platform workers?
  3. What’s an ideal job? Do the ongoing changes in society also change how we perceive work and careers?

Further reading

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