The future of work…

The current transformation in work life in the western world is a widely debated topic. The change seems to be driven by three main phenomena; globalization, digitalization and demographic change.

In the Nordic countries and most of Europe the population is aging and there is a shortage of young people entering the labour market. Globalization implies free trade and foreign labour, a more diverse workforce and consequently new challenges into our workplaces. At the same time, we are witnessing new technologies and business models altering the way work is both carried out and organized. Digitalization is ongoing and some traditional work tasks will soon be replaced by machines capable of artificial intelligence.

History shows that similar type of change has been taking place before. Throughout the 20th century we have seen machines replacing people in diverse tasks. We are now living what is called the fourth industrial revolution. At the same time there has been remarkable positive economic development, increased welfare, prosperity and increased employment. What seems to be unique in present times is that everything happens faster than before; the world is becoming a smaller place and more integrated than ever.

Should we be concerned about the future? Will there be work in the future or are robots and artificial intelligence taking over all the jobs? There seems to be a consensus among specialists that we need not worry. Businesses become more productive and this creates new jobs. Apparently, there will be work in the future, but the work is different from what we have seen. Only 6-11 % of the jobs in the Nordic countries can be automated during the coming years, but there will be significant changes in 30 – 40 % of the jobs of today. The way work is organized is also in transformation, and new forms of work like on-line platform work, gig work and different atypical work arrangements will be increasing.

So, what to do with this uncertainty about the future? The answer seems to be re-skilling. People should be agile and ready to re-educate and re-skill themselves several times during their work career. We need to re-skill the existing work force and increasingly also companies will take part in the process of educating people. Most likely we need to reform our national educational systems, which today are characterized by academic degrees taking several years to acquire. We also need to be good at validating competencies that have been obtained in other ways than through formal education. Basic ICT skills will be as important as numeracy and literacy and information competence is key to be able to navigate in the mass of information that we are constantly exposed to.

Luckily however, humans don’t seem to become obsolete anytime soon as we will still outperform machines in creativity, intuitive skills and social competence for a good bit of time. When it comes to re-skilling and educating people NIVA seems to be in the right business – so we will be busy for some time still. 😊

Birgitta Forsström
NIVA Director