Introduction: Skills in the future of work
EMERGING technology is reshaping the world of work. Automation is revolutionizing business models, tools, tasks and delivery modes. Workers can already see the transformation happening, as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other digital innovations are being used increasingly in the workplace.1 The likely effects of automation are mixed. On the one hand, some jobs are at risk of being fully or partially automated and/ or replaced by robots and AI. On the other hand, these changes could increase efficiency and access to services. Employers and workers require the necessary digital and soft skills to take advantage of the new opportunities they are expected to face.2 However, almost half the population of the EU is considered as lacking basic digital skills3 and one-third of the European citizens reportedly have no or almost no digital skills at all.4 Approximately 40 per cent of employers are struggling to fill their job vacancies due largely to a lack of necessary skills, while 30 per cent of graduates are working in a job where the competences they acquired at university are not required.5 This skills gap could threaten the stability of the labour market as well as the ability of EU industry to innovate.
The challenges of upskilling and reskilling could be imminent for many individuals, businesses and governments. The dignity, well-being and self-fulfilment of individuals as well as the prosperity of society could depend on it. Within this context, impactful public policies for workers’ inclusiveness are important. In this vein, the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders, including workers, companies, public authorities, education institutions, training providers and social partners6 can be crucial.
The ‘future of skills’ receives considerable attention from governments around the world and stands high on the political agenda of many international organizations. As an example, the EU has adopted an overarching strategy – the New Skills Agenda7 – to tackle a wide range of skills-related challenges. Many of the tools contained in this initiative aim at empowering individuals to develop new skills or to exploit the skills they already have. Nevertheless, even with the most innovative policies in place and the mobilization of huge public resources,8 the success of any skills strategy depends heavily on the motivation of individuals and their decisions to take a step forward. Hence, it is of great importance for policymakers and other stakeholders to understand the impact of technological change from the perspective of workers in order to develop effective policy tools to create a future that works for all.
A number of academic studies already shed light on the potential changes in the labour force of the future. This article which presents the opinions of more than 15,000 workers across ten European countries, was designed to contribute to the overall debate by giving voice to the workers themselves and potentially bring them closer to policymakers.
This paper provides insights on how the workers surveyed view the impact of new technologies on their work, how they perceive their own preparedness for automation and technological change, and which policy measures they expect from governments and others. Building on the analysis of workers’ attitudes, the paper concludes with a number of suggestions for further consideration at policy level to address the skills gap and its challenges.