[BLOG] Not another “AAAH! Robots are stealing our jobs!!!” article

by Nikita Sanaullah

 twitter @NikitaSanaullah

“The rise of AI”. “Millions of jobs lost”. “Data privacy breaches”. “Unsustainable pension models”. These days it’s hard to hear anything about the future of our working lives that sounds positive. Megatrends such as digitalisation, globalisation, and demographic shifts are set to change the way our societies function. They will affect the kind of work available and the role of work in our lives. But the interesting thing about the scenarios we conjure up about the future of work is that they are always treated as foregone conclusions, as if they are forces outside of our control.

And yet is it not also political and economic decisions that shape our societies?

Too often we ask, “what will the future of work look like?” instead of “what do we want it to look like?” For young people, the answer surely can’t be more of the same. Things haven’t been easy. Not only are we more than twice as likely to be unemployed compared to the general population (approximately 17% in Europe) but those actually lucky enough to have a job can find that it comes with a whole other set of challenges. New and non-standard forms of work, such as jobs provided through online platforms, are on the rise and young people are at the forefront. This work, part of the so-called “gig economy”, is often precarious and doesn’t exactly fit the description of a dream job. “I want a contract with no access to social protection and without my basic rights of sick leave, maternity leave, or holiday pay please!”

If these trends are an indication of what’s to come, then current and future generations of young people desperately need change if they have any hope of enjoying decent and quality jobs in the future.

(But really though. What about those robots?)

While it is impossible to fully predict the future, it is clear that the future of work is set to impact so many aspects of our lives. There is no doubt that looking forward, we will need to rethink how we educate young people in order to equip them with the skills necessary to thrive in the digital economy. An important part of this rethinking also means closing the so-called ‘digital divide’. That is, the inequality between those who have and who can access the skills needed to use the internet and electronic devices and those who do not for economic or social reasons.

Our future is only sustainable if it benefits everyone equally.

It’s crucial that those most vulnerable and marginalised groups are not at risk of being left behind. We will have to be prepared for the potential impact on many aspects of our societies, including our social welfare mechanisms as many may struggle to find decent work. Most of all, we have to create quality jobs that offer a fair income, social protection, safe and stable working conditions, and the ability to engage in collective bargaining. However, solutions to these issues cannot be found without being mindful about the impacts of new forms of work and production on our natural resources. All these challenges highlight that current labour legislation and social protection mechanisms are not fit for the changing nature of work, nor the challenges young people are already facing in the labour market.

Today, more than one in four young people are at risk of poverty and exclusion. Nearly 30% of young people are in involuntarily part-time work. We have the opportunity now to shape the future labour market to make it work better for youth. Policy-makers need to speed up the process of responding to these emerging issues to prepare our institutions for the changes that are coming. But we all have a role to play in shaping our future into one where the rights of young people are respected, and where all of us can benefit and thrive.

So… what kind of future of work do you want?


This article is part of a series on the some of the things that need to change for a sustainable future and the role of young people in the process.

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