At the same time, cognitive skills, soft skills and creativity will gain more prominence.
In Japan, many people embrace new technologies, such as robots, and perceive them as problem solvers – why are people in many other countries rather skeptical?
Understandably, workers are afraid of losing their jobs and government and the social partners are looking for ideas to create a safety net for people who will lose jobs to automation. Another issue here is to what extent robots can replace care workers in hospitals, old people’s homes, etc. But I am sure that we can find a balance here: relieving care workers from the most arduous tasks may allow more time for human compassion in these institutions. Countries like Japan and Germany have aging societies: the dwindling numbers of new entrants on the labor market calls for innovative solutions, including robots replacing human beings.
You like to emphasize that technology is neither good nor bad but needs to be managed. How?
The digital economy must be a sustainable one and it must be built on decent work which gives humans dignity. The question here is how we can keep the human dimension in a world of work run more and more by robots. Globally, one third of employers surveyed complain of not being able to find the right skill sets to fill existing vacancies. There is the simple truth that the machines were and continue to be built by human brain and brawn. We need to anticipate upcoming technological changes and tackle the education and skills mismatch in labor markets. Adequate education and skills for countries at all development levels increase their ability to innovate and adopt new technologies. It means the difference between growth that leaves large segments of society behind and inclusive growth with a well-trained workforce willing to learn.
While in past industrial revolutions mostly blue-collar workers were affected, the current automatization revolution affects especially white-collar workers. What are the political and societal implications?
In contrast with previous disruptions, these include white-collar as well as blue-collar jobs. As some of the defining tasks of jobs are automated, certain jobs, such as those requiring repeated actions, will be lost. Work that is difficult to automate will gain more prominence for human labor, for example, complex tasks relying on high-level cognitive skills, soft skills and creativity. Policies in response to this transformation should be guided by new empirical analysis. We have set up a Global Commission on the Future of Work that is expected to come up with recommendations by early 2019. I do not want to anticipate the latter but guiding principles should be rights-based, consensual and founded on global solidarity and global governance.
What policies could help to overcome the pay gap between men and women?
A smart mix of legal provisions, fair workplace practices and public awareness is crucial in tackling the gender pay gap. While the gender pay gap has narrowed in most countries there is still a striking variation in women’s relative pay, varying from close to zero to up to 45 percent. Women’s greater investment in education, as well as some shifts in cultural attitudes, have not removed major obstacles to progress, and the pervasive harassment and violence that have come to light demonstrate how much progress remains to be done.
Despite increasing digitization, a lot of Western countries show no increase in productivity. Why is that?
One reason for slower productivity growth is the long-term consequences of the financial crisis that led to a significant restructuring of the banking sector with a tightening of lending standards and a decrease in more risky investments following stricter oversight. In addition, productivity growth has also suffered from a decline in entrepreneurial activity, partly as a result of population aging that limits the appetite of societies for investing in new, innovative processes and products. Finally, technological change often has difficulties in being adopted by
a larger part of the economy, widening the gap between leading companies and the rest. This has contributed to stifled competition, thereby further limiting productivity growth.
Universal guaranteed income has been proposed as a response to the digital revolution. You don’t think much of it.
The universal basic income debate is very interesting but we should be very conscious that this is an absolutely era-changing decision: admitting that we can’t do it through work any longer. Most of us come from traditions, from cultures, from belief patterns which basically say we shall earn our living by the sweat of our brow or the strain on the brain. And the notion that that basic foundation is replaced by the fact that you just get an income for existing, I think is something which is extremely difficult for most people to get their head around. There is a moral panic attached to it. We really must not forget the social component in our discussion of the future of work. Freud called work the individual’s connection to reality. And it’s not a bad way of looking at things.
How will digitization impact migration – when work becomes more mobile and flexible?
Digitization can impact migration in multiple ways as it helps to identify job openings in other countries, increases transparency of recruitment practices, and make migration safe, orderly and regular. Technology can also make remittance channels more accessible to migrants. At the same time, technological progress has also enabled significant changes in employment, not only making skilled occupations more accessible on a global scale, but also creating significant job opportunities at home and hence a potential alternative to migration. These transformations could have a significant impact on the future of work.
Karl Marx foresaw a fully automated world with a large proletariat. In the long run, is Marx right?
The future of work is not decided for us in advance. It is not, as Shakespeare said, “written in the stars.” It’s not going to be determined by technology or globalization. It is a future that we must make according to the values and the preferences that we choose as societies and through the policies that we design and implement.