Analysis. How digitalization is reshaping the jobs of the future

Newsroom 05/05/2018 | 08:30

Digitalization has already refashioned some industries and jobs, and on the medium to long term it will reset the entire business environment. So it is crucial for the local education system to give generations of future employees the right education to help them cope with life in the “digital workforce”.

By Anda Sebesi

If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now, we’re going to be in trouble. The knowledge-based approach of 200 years ago would fail our kids, who would never be able to compete with machines,” says Jack Ma of Alibaba Group.

More than a third of UK jobs could be at high risk of automation by the early 2030s and robots could take over 38 percent of current US jobs in the next 15 years, says a report released by PwC, cited by Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030, a study conducted by the Institute for the Future and Dell Technologies.

In addition, the tasks and duties workers will perform will be markedly different from what they have studied. The same study says that around 85 percent of the jobs that today’s learners will be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.

By 2030, people will create new work infrastructures to acquire the skills and knowledge they will need to do their jobs successfully. They will routinely improvise, learn from each other, and make their own way. Some will rely on past work experience, frameworks, or mental models. Others will experiment across different platforms, discovering their own workarounds and pioneering their own innovations. These factors combined will seriously challenge traditional establishments. By 2030, in-the-moment learning will become the modus operandi, and the ability to gain new knowledge will be valued above the knowledge people already have, says the study.

Recent conversations, reports, and articles about the intersection of emerging technologies and society have tended to promote one of two extreme perspectives about the future: the anxiety-driven issue of technological unemployment or the optimistic view of tech-enabled panaceas for all social and environmental ills.

By framing the relationship between humans and machines as a partnership, Dell’s study says that we can begin to build capacity in machines to improve their understanding of humans, and in society and organizations, so that more of us are prepared to engage meaningfully with emerging technologies. However, society is about to enter a new phase, characterized by even greater efficiency and possibility than before.

As processing power increases tenfold every five years, humans will be eclipsed by computers in many areas, says the study. Machines will bring lightning speed and accuracy to all manner of tasks. However, it would be a fallacy to assume that technology is making human effort redundant. It’s doubtful that computers will have fully mastered the fundamental, instinctive skills of intuition, judgment, and emotional intelligence that humans value by 2030. Over the next decade, partnering with machines will help humans transcend their limitations. Human-machine partnerships will enable people to find and act on information without the interference of emotions or external bias, while also exercising human judgment where appropriate. They’ll learn to team up with technologies integrated with machine learning tools to help activate and deactivate the resources they need to manage their daily lives.

By 2030, work expectations will reset and the landscape for organizations will be redrawn, as the process of finding work gets flipped on its head. As an extension of what is often referred to as the “gig economy” today, organizations will begin to automate how they source work and teams, breaking up work into tasks, and seeking out the best talent for a task.

Instead of expecting workers to bear the brunt of finding work, companies will compete for the best resources to complete the job. Reputation engines, data visualization, and smart analytics will make individuals’ skills and competencies searchable, and organizations will pursue the best talent for discrete work tasks.

The ability to orchestrate both physical and human resources will make it possible for organizations to activate, deactivate, and deploy resources to wherever and whenever they are needed. Not only will this make the organization leaner and more competitive, it will also reduce fixed costs and overheads, and put them on the path to becoming more agile and profitable. However, none of this is assured. To prepare for 2030, organizations will need to build out their capacity to disaggregate the tasks and duties of jobs, as they are designed today.

Romania lags behind its European peers…

So, in such a challenging context and amid an unknown perspective of the future workforce, how should Romania train the new generation to prepare it to cope with a totally different working environment driven by the digitalization process?

According to the National Institute of Statistics (INS), there were about 540,000 preschoolers in the 2015-2016 school year, while the number of primary and secondary school pupils reached 1.7 million. The same stats say that there were some 680,000 students in Romanian high schools. This means that about 3 millions Romanian youngsters will plunge into the tumultuous waters of the future workforce ocean, facing a totally different working environment.

“Stats show that Romania is not very competitive when it comes to training children and youngsters. It has one of the poorest education systems in the European Union and there is little chance it will change in the near future,” says Dragos Iliescu, professor at the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences within the University of Bucharest and president of the International Test Commission (ITC). “At the same time, in Romania some highly qualified jobs are not needed yet so we could cynically ask why we should train youngsters if the local labor market is not able to offer them a job,” adds Iliescu.

… how to catch up?

According to Iliescu, focusing the local education system on the skills that will be most useful in the next decade could be a solution. “But this would mean giving up some traditional subjects – which is a radical and unlikely move in Romania. My opinion is that even the rethinking of the whole curriculum in order to focus on digital skills will not have a significant impact, because it is difficult to predict what the labor market will be like in the next 45 to 60 years,” says Iliescu. Flexibility, the capacity to reorient on the labor market, to learn new things and remain competitive in a fast changing environment and to constantly access new information will be crucial skills for the future. “Those students who learn how to solve problems using complex arguments and have critical thinking along with the capacity to be self-learners are more likely to adapt to the labor market in the future,” says Iliescu.

According to Madalina Racovitan, partner at KPMG and head of people services, there are several important steps to prepare children and students for the new era of work. “If you look at what is happening on the labor market, and how the nature of work is changing, memorizing and ‘processing’ large amounts of information and IQ alone will not be sufficient to ensure success at school or at work. With the introduction of advanced technology in the workplace, we need education systems that take skills like creativity, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and teamwork seriously,” says Racovitan.

Although there are many passionate teachers who are truly committed to the development of their students and encourage them to be creative, the local education system needs more than dedicated individuals. “Stakeholders like public authorities, schools, civil society and the business community should all play a role,” says the KPMG representative. In her opinion, it is time for our education system to focus more on “right brain abilities” like creativity and emotional intelligence, which will be real assets to individuals competing with robots in the workplace. “We should also get used to thinking differently in schools and at work – a new mindset, accepting various answers to one question, thinking less about the ‘right’ one, and accepting failure as a part of the creative process and our own development,” adds the KPMG partner.

This is all part of what Carol Dweck at Stanford has called a growth mindset – the belief that one’s talent is not 100 percent inherited at birth and that individuals can grow and develop, with failure being a natural part of the development process. Having more teachers embrace such concepts can make a huge impact on children’s development of the critical skills required in the new era of work.

According to the World Economic Forum, over 35 percent of the skills that are important for success at work will change in the next three years, with creativity and emotional intelligence being high on list of the top skills needed in 2020.

“We would also like to see more initiatives like ‘Scoala Altfel’, which will help students and pupils adapt to the requirements of the workplace more easily, for example: practical days for high school students, at least three months of mandatory internships for bachelor`s degree students and at least six months for master’s degree students, mandatory financial and IT classes from day one in school, mandatory internship programs in companies for teachers, business hubs hosted by schools, where students can learn more about business, technology, finance and accounting,” adds Racovitan.

As Racovitan says, Romanian talent is quite competitive globally. “Romania is a very attractive outsourcing destination and it is the fastest-growing market for outsourced IT services in the European Union,” she says.

But Iliescu of the University of Bucharest warns that there is a significant gap between Romania and its European peers when it comes to the qualifications of the local workforce. “A less qualified workforce means individuals with fewer opportunities on the labor market and with a poorer contribution to economic growth. Plus, they are obliged to accept low-skilled and low-waged jobs which contribute less to their wellbeing and are at high risk of being destroyed by technology,” says Iliescu.

As Racovitan of KPMG puts it, technology can offer us new transformative and interactive ways of learning and the main challenge is enhancing education by integrating technology into classrooms. “A first step can be improving internet access in schools and providing students with laptops or tablets. I also believe it is crucial to enable students and pupils to gain access to up to date information and to offer the infrastructure that will allow both students and teachers to take advantage of all the opportunities and resources brought by technology. For this, I believe cooperation between the private and the public sector is important, as it is hard to believe that the education system will receive the required budgets to cope with technological advancements.”

Iliescu argues that digital skills are much more than a separate set of skills that complement traditional ones. The digitalization process that modern society now faces can spread rapidly, so that different facets of technology become part of all aspects of our lives – from programming the washing machine, to buying a plane ticket, writing an article, interacting with friends or implementing a project at work. “The acquisition of digital skills is not enough on its own. In my opinion, the introduction of a digital skills course will not have as significant an impact as changing all the other courses in order to deliver the information, carry out the assessment and offer feedback by using technology,” adds the academic.

What McKinsey says about the future

According to a recent study conducted by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce In a Time of Automation, released in December last year, automation technologies including artificial intelligence and robotics will generate significant benefits for users, businesses, and economies, lifting productivity and economic growth. The extent to which these technologies displace workers will depend on the pace of their development and adoption, economic expansion, and growth in demand for work. Even as it causes declines in some occupations, automation will change many more – 60 percent of jobs have at least 30 percent of constituent work activities that could be automated. It will also create new roles that do not exist today, much as technologies of the past have done.

While about half of all work activities globally have the technical potential to be automated by adapting today’s technologies, the proportion of work actually displaced by 2030 will likely be lower, because of technical, economic, and social factors that affect adoption. McKinsey’s scenarios across 46 countries suggest that between almost zero and one third of work activities could be displaced by 2030, with a midpoint of 15 percent. The proportion varies widely across countries, with advanced economies more affected by automation than developing ones, reflecting higher wages and thus economic incentives to automate.

The same study says that even with automation, the demand for work and workers could increase as economies grow, partly fueled by productivity growth enabled by technological progress. Rising incomes and consumption, especially in developing countries, increasing health care for aging societies, investment in infrastructure and energy, and other trends will create demand for work that could help offset the displacement of workers. Additional investments such as in infrastructure and construction, beneficial in their own right, could be needed to reduce the risk of job shortages in some advanced economies.

Even if there is enough work to ensure full employment by 2030, major transitions lie ahead that could match or even exceed the scale of historical shifts from agriculture and manufacturing. The firm’s scenarios suggest that by 2030, 75 million to 375 million workers (3 to 14 percent of the global workforce) will need to switch occupational categories. Moreover, all workers will need to adapt, as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines. Some of that adaptation will require higher educational attainment, or spending more time on activities that require social and emotional skills, creativity, high-level cognitive capabilities and other skills that are relatively hard to automate.

Last but not least, the study shows that income polarization could continue in the US and other advanced economies, where demand for high-wage occupations may grow the most while middle-wage occupations decline— assuming current wage structures persist. Increased investment and productivity growth from automation could spur enough growth to ensure full employment, but only if most displaced workers find new work within a year. If reemployment is slow, frictional unemployment will likely rise in the short-term and wages could face downward pressure. These wage trends are not universal: in China and other emerging economies, middle-wage occupations such as service and construction jobs will likely see the most net job growth, boosting the emerging middle class.

Local education system in numbers

Over 40 percent of Romanian students don’t have the basic skills of so-called modern alphabetization (according to the OECD);

In 2014 Romania was ranked 31st of 40 countries for the quality of its education system (based on expenditure per student, GDP and graduate ratio), according to Pearson;

Romania was ranked 108th of 144 countries for the quality of its education system (a system that meets the needs of a competitive economy), according to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Information Technology Report;

Romania’s public investment in education is 2.9 percent of GDP, or USD 1,445/student, compared with 4.8 percent of GDP or USD 15,667 in Germany;

Romania has one of the smallest proportions of highly qualified workers in the EU and one of the highest shares of low qualified workers (according to the EC Report).

Source: D&D Research


Top 10 Skills

In 2020

  1. 1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. 2. Critical Thinking
  3. 3. Creativity
  4. 4. People Management
  5. 5. Coordinating with Others
  6. 6. Emotional Intelligence
  7. 7. Judgement and Decision Making
  8. 8. Service Orientation
  9. 9. Negotiation
  10. 10. Cognitive Flexibility

In 2015

  1. 1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. 2. Coordinating with Others
  3. 3. People Management
  4. 4. Critical Thinking
  5. 5. Negotiation
  6. 6. Quality Control
  7. 7. Service Orientation
  8. 8. Judgement and Decision Making
  9. 9. Active Listening
  10. 10. Creativity


Source: Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum

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