The Eurocadres blog

Harvesting the Opportunities of Digitalisation

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40% of the EU population have insufficient digital skills. 18% have still never used the internet. 2020 there will be an estimate of 825.000 unfilled vacancies for ICT professionals.

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All these numbers coming from the EU Commission’s Digital Agenda Scoreboard. The Commission is hard at work with developing the Digital Single Market. In May this year, the Commission presented their strategy for this. Soon thereafter responses started coming from the trade union movement.

In the beginning of the 19th century the Luddites protested against the rise of use of automatic machines in the textile factories. The revolts were maybe not so much a protest against the technology per se, but rather a way to address the hardships that workers where experiencing. A top of a trade union mind response to digitalisation and automation is that there will be job losses. And as trade unions we need to safeguard jobs, they are far too scarce already.

At the same time, productivity gains are what can lead to further development of wealth and prosperity. But the fruits of this productivity gain are up for grabs. Naming the current process of change the Third Industrial Revolution gives an indication about the magnitude of the events.

Digitalisation will have tremendous impact on everyday working life. Many professions will undergo enormous losses of job positions, whereas new will instead grow. But these new jobs will require a different set of skills.

"The true challenge of the trade unions in this process will not be to safeguard jobs."

The true challenge of the trade unions in this process will not be to safeguard jobs. Safeguarding jobs that, seen in a global perspective, can be labelled obsolete will not only do the competitiveness of Europe harm, but also the individual that will lose out on the opportunities to develop skills that will be needed in the long run. Much alike the call of trade unions in the issue of climate change, we must call for just transition.

Strong systems to support transitioning from one job to another has to be pushed as a core demand of trade unions. As social partners we address the issues through bipartite social dialogue with employers, and also tripartite social dialogue with state actors. Getting trade unions, employers and representatives of government around the table to make sure that we have good ways to support individuals in the development of digital skills needed, linking to activities of businesses and public employers.

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The author

Martin Jefflén
President of Eurocadres