What do new technologies mean for the labour market?
When designing training schemes to assist the creation of a knowledge-based economy, policy-makers should not focus solely on highly skilled workers. To keep unemployment at a minimum, strategies for increasing the employability of low-skilled workers must also be embraced, according to a study carried out for the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA). The study, conducted by teams from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, assessed ‘Interactions between new technologies and the job market, flexicurity and training/vocational training’.
The ensuing report is written in the context of information technologies being increasingly introduced to the workplace as governments act to create the much sought-after knowledge-based economy. It follows the accepted logic that the introduction of technological innovations usually leads to a change in working environments and work profiles, and therefore new demands on qualifications and skills.
But complexities of processes involved in creating a knowledge-based economy mean that the impacts are felt differently according to sector and institutional setting. ‘Political programmes enhancing the ‘employability’ of workers, therefore, should take into account a wide range of social risks, but also should offer a wide range of possibilities to integrate workers into working processes,’ states the STOA report.
The first policy recommendation takes this view, and suggests that the impact of technologies on labour markets should be analysed carefully according to branch, sector, organisation and country. ‘There is still an empirical gap in the theoretical hypotheses about the changes of work organisation in different sectors,’ states the report. The gap should be filled through permanent observation of the use of technology, division of labour and employment relationships in different sectors.
The restructuring of global chains has put pressure on markets and individuals and demanded flexibility from organisations and individuals alike. Repercussions have included a decline in lifelong employment and job security. Governments should ensure that those workers who are vulnerable to these trends are catered for in strategies and programmes to enhance ‘employability’, says the report.
New instruments to help workers adapt to fast-changing labour markets are also proposed, along with training programmes to stimulate organisational restructuring.
The report also states that flexicurity should be understood as a concept that can be developed in accordance with different working conditions within individual countries. It could be supported through lifelong learning courses, the better organisation of knowledge chains across company and sector borders, and new pacts between government, social partners and training institutions.
The report’s authors hope that the paper will encourage a ‘good’ balance between flexibility and security, while promoting an intensive and open discussion the active creation of future labour markets.