Yannis Karamitsios has tackled many of the everyday issues that a future Europe must face and in this piece, Yannis looks at employment and provides solutions on how we can deal with it’s changing narrative in relation to citizens.
European action for the winners and losers of the fourth industrial revolution
A fourth industrial revolution has already started…
It involves the rapid development of artificial intelligence, automation, quantum computing, nanotechnology, biotechnology or 3D printing. It poses big challenges for our lives. As a result, millions of “blue collar” jobs, namely unskilled or low skilled jobs in the manufacturing sector, are going to be lost in the next decades because robots will perform them better, quicker and cheaper. Studies vary in their estimates of how many jobs are going to be lost to automation and artificial intelligence in the long-term but all agree the impact will be significant. In the mid-term, for example, one study from the European Commission from March 2011 predicted the loss of jobs worldwide by 2030 in the region of 800 million.
Moreover, self-employment is going to increase in several sectors. The same will happen regarding remote work: millions of people would not need to work in an office or store any more, but literally anywhere they choose as long as they are digitally connected to their employer or client. According to a pessimistic scenario, human work will become largely obsolete. Armies of unemployed human beings are destined to move to the margins of a society dominated by large corporations and machines. We do not fully share that scenario, because human skills and knowledge would always be needed in emerging sectors. For many jobs, human emotions and discretion will always be required.
There are answers and they need to come from the very top – The European Union. It should start with the EU authorities first fostering a supportive social and business environment that guides citizens towards those jobs that are expected to survive the new technological developments. Every two years, the USA Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases its projections for job growth in the future decade concerning hundreds of occupations that would remain in high offer despite or due to automation. Some examples of these are: nurse practitioners, software systems developers, physical therapists, personal financial advisers, computer and information systems managers, accountants and auditors, first-line supervisors of office workers, personal financial advisers. The BLS report offers a picture of a future economy based on high value services, a sector where the vast majority of new jobs is expected to be created. The EU authorities could carry out the same exercise on a regular basis to inform their business, public administration, academia and other citizens about those trends. The results would be very useful for everyone’s future planning.
Switching from blue- to green-collar jobs – the EEP
Furthermore, EU policy can develop a very proactive approach to match the supply and demand of employment by establishing the ‘European Employment Portal’ or ‘EPP’. This would be a public database registering all vacancies per sector/region/skill-set, etc across the EU’s territory. Its mission would be to connect prospective employers with employees from all corners of the EU. In this way, every prospective employer and employee in Europe would be only three or four mouse clicks away from each other. Special algorithms could help identifying offer and demand of particular professions and skills per region and country.
Furthermore, one should stress the potential offered by emerging technologies on the circular economy and renewable energy. A low carbon economy will require particular skills, especially in construction, engineering and research. The EU needs to be exploiting this opportunity to offer vocational training and develop “green-collar” skills in its labour force. The renewables industry in the EU has increased its work force by 20% since 2000, for example. In 2017, this accounted for 4.2 million jobs and this is only the beginning of a predicted long boom. In its communication of 2011, the European Commission emphasised “the positive employment benefits if revenues from the auctioning of ETS (Emissions Trade Scheme) allowances and CO2 taxation are used to reduce labour costs, with the potential to increase total employment by up to 1.5 million jobs by 2020” .
The EU should invest more than €20 billion per year to support training for these needed skills. It should also support, in a targeted manner, the creation of new employment posts in sectors of high social value such as the circular economy and carbon-free energy.
The European educational system must be prepared – ECFS
The European educational system must be also prepared for those developments. The EU Ministries of Education, as well as the EU institutions, should establish an EU “Expert Council on Future Skills” consisting of education experts, representatives of industry, employers and employees. The council should supervise and co-ordinate the curricula of higher education to adapt them to the emerging needs of labour markets and should engage with employers to develop university curricula and research. It should advise on the direction of technical education and the vocational skills to be developed at high school level. Indeed, pupils and students will need to be guided, at the earliest possible stage of their lives, towards the most relevant jobs for their future. The steering bodies of universities should, for their part, include representatives from industry and professional sectors. This would be instrumental in ensuring that higher education remains relevant to the skills needed by modern enterprise.
The EU and its member states can also focus on vocational training of young people. They should follow the successful example of the German system, which pursues a dual-vocational training programme. The main characteristic of that system is cooperation between small and medium-sized companies on the one hand and, on the other, publicly funded vocational schools. Trainees typically spend part of each week at a vocational school and at a company, or they may spend longer periods at each before alternating. Dual training usually lasts from two to three-and-a-half years. There are around 350 officially recognised training programmes in Germany, so the chances are good that one of them suits a young person’s interests and talents. Employment prospects for students who have completed a dual vocational training programme are very high. This is one of the reasons why, in Germany, some two-thirds of all students leaving school go on to start a vocational training programmes.
A need for urgent action, long-term planning and bigger investments
Europe lags behind America and east Asia in the race of artificial intelligence and automation. It should speed up but not panic. There is still time to use the new technologies as an opportunity for faster, greener and fairer growth that would benefit everyone. But it needs to urgently proceed with long-term planning and very generous investments in this direction, starting from this year already. What we want is investments at the scale of 20 billion euros annually, focus on new skills, wide spread adaptation of university and vocation training, as well as a pan-European framework to match demand and offer of the new jobs.