PS21 Event Writeup “Work in 2030”

 On May 15, the latest instalment of our ‘Imagining 2030’ series took place at Juju’s Bar and Stage, in conjunction with Wilton Park and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Reuters Global Affairs Columnist Peter Apps moderated the panel of experts on the world of work to take a look at how exactly the job market would change and how technological advances would impact our lives twelve years from now.

Kate Bell, Head of Economic and Social Policy from the Trade Union Congress, began by looking at the changes of the last twelve years: three million more people in work, but the worst pay stagnation in 200 years, falling productivity and the rise of so-called ‘false self-employment’. Those with power and responsibility, she said, were increasingly finding ways to dilute the social contract when it came to corporates paying tax, sick pay and other employee benefits.

Global Thematic Strategist Frances Hudson from Aberdeen Standard Life Investments was sceptical towards the change technology might bring, stating that even though robots might replace surgeons in the future, the element of care and empathy could not be replaced by technology. The kind of jobs most likely to see growth were often those at the bottom of the pay and social spectrum, she said, particularly care work – but this might lead to something of a reappraisal of what jobs society actually valued.

Joe Dromey, Senior Research Fellow at IPPR, called for three changes in the job market: the need for managed acceleration of automation, the transformation of skill systems and stronger unions. Comparing the present to past industrial revolutions, Dromey pointed out that the net demand for labour had always increased. This was the case now as well, given that automation created more jobs than it destroyed, however, these new jobs may not be accessible to those losing their jobs to greater mechanisation.

Artificial Intelligence specialist Luca Perletta said that AI allowed to identify patterns and trends much quicker than if carried out by humans and that in this case, technology replaced repetitive jobs. However, Perletta said, AI could not replace humans entirely. But they would create new industries and industrial dynamics that would change the job market forever.

Professional and personal coach Helen Gazzi said that despite technological change, many of the frustrations of the work environment – including boredom, lack of fulfilment and worries over career path – had always existed and were likely to continue. Tackling that required a rethinking of the paradigm of work, she said, and what individuals needed to feel fulfilled.

Alvin Carpio, Founder and Chief Executive of the Fourth Group, a global community established to respond to the challenges caused by the fourth industrial revolution, began by outlining the positive aspect of technology, such as the opportunity of emancipation through technology and the possibility to undertake online learning, as well as the formation of connections which can lead to new job opportunities through networks such as LinkedIn. Carpio also drew attention to the negative side of accelerated work environments, such as abysmal working conditions in factories, as well as the ‘blood iPhone’, assembled with parts that were mined by children in the DRC.

Many of the panellists expressed reservations on the concept of Universal Basic Income, questioning both the economic models behind it and whether it would genuinely leave people fulfilled. As with previous industrial revolutions, most believed new jobs would emerge to replace those lost with technological change, although the dramatic fall in productivity in recent years might be a sign that things could be somehow different this time around.

Photo credit: Thomas Hoare

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