In Europe, digital technology is transforming the world of work. The corona pandemic is accelerating this process. The principles of fairness and social responsibility must shape this digital transformation, in the fields of continuing education and training, new technologies and new forms of employment.
Did you read your e-mail on your smartphone on the way to work today? Are you already working alongside a robot? Or are you working from home? One way or another, digital technologies are already transforming the world of work for many employees.
Across national borders
Tasks that require fresh training, the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace and the spread of new forms of employment, for example in the platform economy, are all part of this new world of work. This has an impact on working conditions, pay and social security. All these developments affect many EU member states in equal measure.
We must therefore answer the question of what kind of future we want for the world of work at the European level.
Because of its size and prosperity, Europe is in the best possible position to make sure that digital transformation is socially sustainable. It must take its own, self-determined European path. This includes having common rules for the European labour market, fair employment conditions, more skills acquisition and high common standards with regard to artificial intelligence (AI). Digital technology can spark new growth and make our lives better overall – for example by doing monotonous and unhealthy tasks for us. Digital platforms hold great potential for consumers, for those working on the platforms and for companies using them.
At the same time, we must ensure better regulation and more transparency in responsibilities. Because the use of innovative technologies and business models must not come at the expense of our labour and social standards – we must not let digital transformation mean exploitation. This transformation needs policies that ensure that technological progress becomes social progress. I am glad that the Commission will make a number of proposals on this issue next year.
A new culture of continuing education and training in Europe
Continuing education and training is central to this: We need this training in order to be able to cope with new tasks in our jobs. It can open up new career paths or help people regain a foothold in the labour market. On 20 October 2020, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs therefore hosted an interactive online panel with high-ranking guests to discuss policies to future-proof continuing education and training in times of the Corona pandemic and structural change brought on by digital technologies. We are planning to launch initiatives on the basis of the "Skills Agenda for Europe" to create a new culture of continuing education and training for Europe. Launched in 2016, the "Skills Agenda for Europe" set out ten measures to make the right training, skills and support available to people in the EU.
Artificial intelligence to help new work be good work
Continuing education and training is also about teaching the skills required by the digital transformation of the world of work, for example, how to deal with AI. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is committed to ensuring that in Europe AI is used responsibly and for the benefit of employees. Specifically, existing protection standards, such as for employee data privacy, must not be undermined by new technologies. On the contrary, AI should help people, for example, by alleviating the burden of physically strenuous work or taking over routine tasks.
Making new work good work
At the same time, new forms of work are emerging, such as platform work, where people carry out activities on or via internet platforms. This includes, for example, writing copy, IT programming, craft services and food deliveries. Frequently, those doing the work are employed neither by the platform nor the client, but are working as self-employed persons on their own.
The platform economy offers many opportunities, such as easier access to new markets and new customers. At the same time, however, this form of work leaves many questions unanswered that are related to social issues, such as the social safety net for self-employed platform workers working on their own in case of illness or job loss and the underlying criteria for an algorithm-based evaluation of work performance.