Digitalisation at work ‘could widen existing inequalities’

By David Donaldson

Wednesday May 15, 2019

Progress in technology is making our lives easier and helping many to be more productive at work.

But it could also “widen existing inequalities and create new ones, as some jobs disappear and some skills become outmoded”, warns a new report from the OECD.

Citizens and countries that manage to tap into the possibilities of digitalisation “stand to benefit hugely”, the report argues, but those less able “risk being left far behind”.

Technology will increasingly replace workers whose routine tasks are repetitive and thus automatable, but it will also complement workers in tasks that require creativity, problem solving and cognitive skills, explains the Paris-based think tank.

“As machine learning and artificial intelligence advance in many sectors, a growing number of workers may need to move from declining occupations (which are highly intensive in low-skilled routine tasks) to growing ones (which are characterised by high-level, non-routine skills).”

Requirements for digital skills are becoming more complex as the internet becomes more sophisticated. Technical ability is important, but so too are softer skills like cognitive ability. Understandings of privacy, security and how to evaluate information found online are increasingly important.

Government policies “need to offer everyone ways to get the most out of the new technology”, says the report. This is particularly the case for people living in already disadvantaged communities.

Lifelong learning is one of the key means of achieving this.

“This means breaking down inequalities in learning opportunities, adapting school curricula to changing skills requirements — including digital skills — and giving teachers the best training possible. It means building adult education and training systems that respond to the labour market,” says the OECD.

To really make an impact, countries should develop comprehensive plans to coordinate policy in education, the labour market, tax, housing, social protection and research and innovation.

“In our rapidly digitalising world, skills make the difference between staying ahead of the wave and falling behind.”

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