Topic Overview EMPL

Topic Overview EMPL

Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL)

One in three workers worldwide are anxious about the future of their work due to the automation and digitalisation of increasingly complex tasks. How should the EU adequately equip citizens with the skills needed to adapt to the transformation of the job market and what should social welfare models look like in the future?

Chairperson:  Daksh Khanna (NL)

INTRODUCTION

Many citizens of Europe are scared that their jobs will be automated. This fear does not come as a surprise to many, as global technological advancements in the past have already replaced many jobs. 

Research has shown us many sides to both the disadvantages, as well as the advantages of the usage of automation, digital tools and  AI in our future workforce. One type of research argues that the advancement of technology will aid people in their work: health workers for example. The digitalisation of routine tasks would allow this group of workers to spend more time on solving problems, rather than performing small meaningless tasks.

On the other hand we have another group of workers, who will be affected most by the digital future of work: the ‘’medium skilled workers’’, due to their tasks being automatable. These are the workers who work in accounting and administrative work. More examples of vocational working groups who might get replaced are customer service and sales, food services, and building and construction occupations.

The EU promises equal treatment and opportunities, flexible and adaptable employment, fair wages, and a fair work-life balance. But how can we ensure that the workers whose employment life will change, are able to transition to the new labour market, where they might have to sustain themselves by performing tasks on a platform economy? What is certain is that the manner in which the EU will implement policies surrounding the digitalisation of work will greatly impact the outcome of the job market transition in Europe.

KEY TERMS

  • Vocational Education and Training (VET): responsible for the development of skills people need to be active in the workforce. Through teaching skills, but also reteaching skills, VET helps to lower dropout rates and the transition from school life to the labour market.
  • Digitalisation: the implementation and integration of technology in society and economy.
  • Routine tasks are repeated tasks, occurring at regular intervals. An example of this in the workplace, would be the job of a bank teller, secretary and bookkeepers.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is a system set up by humans that can perceive and analyse an environment. It can then respond to certain actions, based on what it learned during its analysis of an environment or situation.
  • Self-employment is a type of employment wherein the worker is not consistently employed by someone, who pays then a periodical wage. Instead, they are ‘’independent contractors’’, who take on jobs as high-skilled workers. Some examples include writing or graphic design.
  • Platform economies are circulations of the work that is based online. This work can be divided into two parts. The first one being platforms for companies to request work, and platforms for people who are offering their services.
  • Social Welfare systems are systems set in place to help citizens who are in need by supporting them with, for example, employment compensation or additional health benefits.

MAIN ACTORS

  • CEDEFOP is an organisation that aims to improve the vocational, education and training systems in Europe, by creating effective policies. The creation of CEDEFOP was bolstered by several EU countries who had the same goal in guiding the continent’s labour force. 

It has for instance aided the EU in the validation of the national educational certificates from a country in another country, i.e. attending higher education in Belgium and being able to work in the Netherlands. Through the research it develops, it recognizes the strong and weak points within the European VET systems.

  • The OECD is an international organisation that finds solutions for a broad array of issues; social, economic, etc. OECD aims to work together with governments, policymakers and citizens from all over the world, to create policies that promise equality and opportunity. OECD has 38 member countries, which you can find at the bottom of this page.
  • The World Employment Confederation (WEC) recognises that the world as we know it, is developing fast. Additionally, it sees that we are missing clear regulations to this day, regarding the digitalisation of the future. WEC provides policymakers with recommendations to reach an equal-opportunity workfield, fair working conditions, as well as the changes of social welfare systems.
  • Medium-skilled workers are the workers who will be most impacted by the digitalisation of work in Europe. Whereas the opportunities for lower-skilled workers in the past years grew, such as cleaners, the opportunities for medium-skilled workers have grown less hard, and they are predicted to decrease in the near future.

MEASURES IN PLACE

The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan aims to set concrete goals to help turn the European Pillar of Social Rights into reality. The European Pillar of Social rights has several principles, which belong to three groups: ‘’Equal opportunities and access to the labour market’’, ‘’fair working conditions’’, and lastly ‘’social protection and inclusion’’.  These three ambitious targets are to be met before 2030, meaning that by then over 78% of all Europeans aged between 20-64 shall be employed, at least 60% of all adults will be participating in trainings yearly, and the amount of people who are at risk of poverty or social exclusion shall be reduced by 15 million. 

The Dutch Digitalisation Strategy recognises the need for the implementation of the above mentioned principles in the legislation of the Netherlands.  The government of the Netherlands has created this document to serve as an outline when it comes to helping digitalise work, while ensuring the safety of all workers.

The OECD project ‘’going digital’’ aids Member States to make better policies to have a smoother transformation to the future. Their project consists of several phases, and it is now in the phase of experimenting with and creating digital mechanisms to help Member States better understand the way digitalisation in Europe will take place as a whole. 

KEY CONFLICTS

The fact that many people are scared of their jobs getting taken over by AI or automated systems is quite understandable when we take a look at how much the EU invests in technological development. The opportunities for medium-skilled workers in the past years have grown less in quantity than the opportunities for lower and higher skilled workers. Many models of the future of work in Europe point out that we will experience a transformation to a ‘’platform economy’’. It is therefore important that we can provide adequate training  through national VET systems, as well as prepare the current incoming generation of workers for the digital future of work.

A platform economy entails an online platform, where requests for work are received and accepted. Today’s self-employed workers of such platforms, such as Fiverr and UpWork, can offer physical work ,such as babysitting or cleaning homes, or intellectual work, such as making a code or script for data management or producing logos.

Several big corporations have already made plans to expand their training resources for their current workers, but there are still medium-skilled workers whose skills will not have the same level of demand. It is important for safety nets to be created for these workers to ensure the digital work transformations remain inclusive, sustainable and fair.

The classic set-up for social welfare systems recognises workers whose work is rewarded periodically, whether it be weekly or monthly. For the future, however, this is not ideal. Just as the labour market will evolve in many different ways in the future, so should the social welfare systems in Europe so workers can be supported in a market that is intensely skill-biased. The big challenge we face at the moment is how we can include self-employed workers in our social welfare systems.  As many of them are classified as ‘’independent contractors’’, self-employed workers seldom fall within the national requirements to be included in the social- and health insurance systems.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The start of the digital transformation dates back to as far as the late 1990s and has since taken over the jobs of thousands of employees through the automation of tasks. With robotics and AI systems becoming increasingly sophisticated, it is likely that more jobs will become obsolete  as more tasks become digitalised. Simultaneously, this is generating new jobs positions that require a certain degree of technological and digital knowledge. Hence, one of Europe’s main challenges is the reskilling of the working population and preparing the next generation of workers for the dynamic and changing job market. 

  • Many medium-skilled workers are at risk of losing their jobs, due to their skills being replaced by automation. How can we ensure appropriate reskilling of this group of workers, so they can experience equal working opportunities as other work groups?
  • How can we ensure that self-employed workers have access to the same level of social welfare schemes as traditional workers?

LINKS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH

  • What will the future of jobs be like? (2020) video by the World Economic Forum, which talks in a broad view about how the future of work looks like in a digitalised Europe.
  • The big debate about the future of work, explained (2017) video by Vox outlining different perspectives around the issue of the digitalisation of work.
  • The future of work in Europe (2020) article by McKinsey outlining the effects of digitalisation and COVID on the future work in Europe. Please focus solely on section 3: ‘’As Europe’s labor force shrinks, automation will affect occupations and demographic groups unevenly’’.
  • What is platform economy? (2020) a video by BMC Software explaining what platform economy consists of.