Digitalisation and automation will enhance people’s capabilities and change the type of work they do, boosting productivity as working-age populations decline, participants told a working group on the 4th Industrial Revolution.
The roundtable addressed the challenges for organising work as digitalisation and the ‘internet of things’ accelerate. There are growing public fears that intelligent machines could make people less useful and trigger widespread unemployment.
These fears accompanied previous industrial revolutions, such as coal-powered manufacturing in the 19th century and mass production in the 20th. However, while those technological upheavals caused dislocation, they eventually created new types of jobs. “Most of the time your job will not disappear; it will be changed,” said Jacques Bughin, Director at the McKinsey Global Institute. “You will not have jobs removed; you will have jobs redefined.”
The discussion was the third and final working group organised by Friends of Europe to explore the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Participants pointed out that policymakers need to rethink income support and safety nets to help people cope with the transition.
Much of the focus was on digital skills and the labour market, including the kind of educational opportunities needed to enable people to adapt to rapid changes in the world of work. On the one hand, people will need the technical skills to enable them to work with intelligent machines; on the other they will need to be more creative and innovative to fulfil roles that robots cannot.
“Education is very much focussed on STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics],” said Kaja Kallas, an Estonian Member of the European Parliament. “But we also need to have creativity. In our schools at the moment, you are successful by doing the things they tell you to do.” A lot of innovation requires failure followed by renewed efforts. “How do you learn to fail? Because in school you can’t fail.”
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