With New Technologies Will Come Challenge of Learning New Skill Sets, Speaker Tells Second Committee in Discussion on Future Employment

8 November 2013
GA/EF/3385

With New Technologies Will Come Challenge of Learning New Skill Sets, Speaker Tells Second Committee in Discussion on Future Employment

8 November 2013
General Assembly
GA/EF/3385
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Second Committee

33rd Meeting (AM)


With New Technologies Will Come Challenge of Learning New Skill Sets,

 

Speaker Tells Second Committee in Discussion on Future Employment

 


Over the next decade, new technologies, including artificial intelligence, data analytics, robotics, and synthetic biology, would start to improve productivity, the Director of Scanning and Foresight at Policy Horizons Canada told the Second Committee today.


“We are entering a transition period,” Peter Padbury said during the Committee’s joint panel discussion with the Economic and Social Council on “The future of employment: The world of work in 2030”.


Artificial intelligence was already used in the manufacturing and services sectors, resulting in reduced costs and increased efficiency, he said, while data analytics made it possible to diagnosis disease through a drop of blood.  Robots, cheaper than ever before, had the potential to be used as health-care providers.  In China, they were already used as restaurant servers.  Additionally, 3-D printing would play an increasing role in the production of auto-parts, clothes, furniture, and pharmaceuticals.  With the new opportunities would come challenges and workers would need to learn new skills to use those new technologies.


Raymond Torres, Director of the International Institute for Social Studies at the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that by 2030, workers would be better educated, especially in low-income countries.  Declining rates of fertility would encourage a boost of the middle class.  At the same time, links between enterprises and workers were weakening and unemployment and underemployment were rising.


Barbara Birungi, Founder and Director of Women in Technology in Uganda, said that the education system in Africa was still training people for a traditional job market.  Schools on the continent must focus on training in the area of information and communications technologies.  Social norms continued to promote ideas that women were not equal to men and employment opportunities for men and women remained highly unequal.  Women were also more likely to be underemployed and underpaid, she added.


In an ensuing discussion, Gabon’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the post-2015 development agenda must ensure that the “youth bulge” be translated into a demographic dividend by supporting good jobs.  Education and training policies, which must go beyond primary and secondary school, should support the transformation and prioritize the needs of women and young people.


The representative of Suriname pointed to the contradiction between the role of the private sector and Government — in that while the former was meant to create jobs, the latter’s social protection policies such as minimum wage seemed to hamper job creation.


Germany’s delegate asked about how salaries could be determined to ensure decent living conditions.


The Second Committee will meet again on Monday, 11 November, for the 2013 Pledging Conference for Development Activities.


Panel Discussion


The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) held a joint meeting with the Economic and Social Council today on “The future of employment: The world of work in 2030”.  With Martin Sajdik (Austria), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, and Abdou Salam Diallo (Senegal), Committee Chair, leading, the discussion included the following panellists: Raymond Torres, Director, International Institute for Social Studies, International Labour Organization (ILO); Paul De Civita, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister of Policy Horizons Canada; Peter Padbury, Director, Scanning and Foresight, Policy Horizons Canada (via video link); Marcio Pochmann, Economist and Professor, Institute of Economics and the Centre for Trade Union Studies and Labor Economics, State University of Campinas, Brazil (via telephone conference); and, Barbara Birungi, Founder and Director, Women in Technology, Uganda.  The panel also included Adam Greene, United States Council for International Business, and Peter Bakvis, Director, Global Unions, Washington, D.C., as discussants.


Mr. DIALLO said the rapid changes in the global economy coupled with a myriad of technological, demographic and financial factors, would give a different meaning to the notion of work in the years to come.  “The resulting social changes are as promising as they are risky and fraught with danger.”  Examination of those issues deserved joint discussion by the Second Committee and the Economic and Social Council.  The digital revolution, including 3-D printing, would create new opportunities and facilitate individual entrepreneurship over the next 20 years.  Countries would experience that revolution differently, depending on their economic situation and the scale of the challenges they faced.  More than 470 million jobs must be created between 2015 and 2030 in an effort to tackle the effects of the current financial crisis and to absorb the growth in the world’s working-age population.  The world could not afford a new digital divide between those trained in those technologies and those not.


Mr. TORRES said the emergence of new enabling technologies or the advent of another financial crisis made it difficult to predict about the emerging world of work.  However, there were three mega trends available to anticipate the future.  First, by 2030, workers would be better educated, especially in low income countries.  Coupled with fertility decline, that would boost the growth of the middle class.  Second, new technology would continue to spread, facilitating economic integration and new opportunities.  It was established that the possibility for workers and enterprises to connect around the world was key in the emergence of the South.  Significant progress, albeit uneven, on the social front had been achieved, including on workers rights.  However, there was a disconnect between those positive trends and the world of work, that would increase instability and inequality.  The links between enterprises and workers were weakening and unemployment and underemployment were rising.  Enterprises, too, faced uncertainties wherein rising profits had not translated into productive investments.


That growing mismatch was especially problematic for young people, he said, as the nature of work itself was changing in a profound manner.  The boundaries between work and personal life and between enterprises were blurring.  Social mobility — the building block of democratic society — in the medium-term may be threatened, undermining the social contract.  Turning to the third trend, Mr. Torres said the policymaking system itself was being questioned, which in a sense was nothing new.  What was new, however, was the fact that countries could not address their challenges in isolation.  Although national institutions existed, they were being weakened as economies had become more integrated and capital more mobile.  Despite calls for withdrawal of the State, those institutions would remain important.  Therefore, there was a need to create an alliance to build a world of work and opportunities, which required international cooperation in different forms and at various levels.


Mr. DE CIVITA and Mr. PADBURY, via video link, described the work of Policy Horizons Canada, saying that it focused on emerging digital, bio and neuro-technologies.  Elaborating on that, Mr. PADBURY, said that “we are not predicting the future” but rather identifying challenges and opportunities.  People were not aware or were underestimating the rate in which those technologies would surface.  Artificial intelligence was already used in the manufacturing and services sectors reducing costs and increasing efficiency.  Data analytics had the potential to dramatically change the healthcare system, he said, highlighting the potential of a machine to diagnosis four different types of cancer through a drop of blood.  On robots, he said it was a field reaching maturity.  Their price had significantly dropped, and they now had the potential of being used as health-care providers.  In China, robots were already used as restaurant servers.  Additionally, 3-D printing was producing auto-parts, clothes, furniture, and pharmaceuticals.


Over the next decade, new technologies — artificial intelligence, data analytics, robotics, and synthetic biology — would improve productivity.  Moreover, 3-D printing and synthetic biology would begin to shift the economics and location of manufacturing and resources extracted.  Workers would need to learn new skills to use the new technologies.  Countries that wanted to stay in the “game” would have to embrace the change or face being left behind.  “We are entering a transition period,” he said, noting that there would be disruptions but also huge opportunities for individuals, firms, and Governments.  By 2025, the world of work would have less traditional jobs.  “Online clearing house”, where people worldwide bid the lowest rate to produce a product or service, would be the foundation the next economy would be built upon.


Mr. POCHMANN, via telephone conference, said countries needed to make changes in keeping with the shifting dynamics of capitalism.  He described four challenges ahead.  First, the growth of transnational corporations and national conglomerates could threaten the autonomy of national policies and adversely affect the quality of employment.  Second, the transition towards service economies meant that work situations were opening up, but at the same time, the work day was getting longer and the workplace conditions often were deteriorating.  The third challenge was that although average life expectancy, education and professional training opportunities were growing, they placed special problems for women, whose advancing education levels were not matched by growing incomes.  The fourth challenge was emerging in form of the change in the colour and race of the workers.  Given the fall of fertility among white women, the proportion of the non-white population would continue to grow.  Racial discrimination had an effect on working conditions, in the form of lower salaries for non-white workers.


Amid those challenges, the future of labour would become precarious.  The fight for decent work should lead to the creation of new paradigms for all and the reinvigoration of the role of national Governments.  New policies of global governance relating to the question of employment must be pursued, he said, with more policies supporting the vulnerable were important.


Ms. BIRUNGI said the technological revolution looked very different in Africa.  Mobile phones only came to the continent about 15 years ago.  While traditional jobs were going to go away, the educational system in Africa was still training people for a traditional market.  Africans would lose to foreigners because they merely lacked the technological skills.  The system was training youth to become doctors and lawyers, rather than training them to be entrepreneurs.  African schools must scrap what they were teaching now, and focus on training in the area of information and communications technologies.  In Uganda, she said she had seen high school students type their names with one finger and look at the keyboard while doing it.  For that reason, it was essential to put more strength in vocational and technical training.  Teachers must also be trained better.  If there were Africans who struggled with sending a text message, she asked, how could they be expected to use 3-D printing?


Highlighting Uganda’s high fertility rate of six children per women, she said African women faced substantial problems in obtaining education and completing primary school.  Plus, social norms continued to promote ideas that women were not equal to men and employment opportunities for men and women remained unequal.  Women were graduating from university, but struggled to find jobs, and the ones who did were likely to be underemployed and underpaid.  It was also imperative to focus on the reasons girls were dropping out of school.  She called for an African business and technological hub to train and equip women to create their own jobs.  Needed was a social attitude-change one that built confidence and encouraged women to succeed.  The world needed to invest in Africa, but to also let Africans invest in themselves.


Mr. GREENE, responding to the panellists, said that while discussions on global goals were useful, national context was paramount.  Jobs were created by enterprises, so the focus should be on creating small and medium enterprises.  Sustainable enterprises could prosper in a framework of good governance, rule of law, property rights, and flexible labour markets.  Coupled with proper investments in infrastructure and education, the private sector could help create the conditions for a favourable future.  A large informal economy was a fundamental barrier to production and employment in many countries, depriving Governments of a tax basis to effectively regulate the private sector.  Addressing informality would be one of the biggest anti-poverty programmes in the world.  On education and skills, he said, the starting point was universal access to education.  Encouraging people to start jobs early in life would be helpful.


Mr. BAKVIS said that in many countries trade unions were engaged with Governments in developing training systems.  The introduction of green technologies and development of the requisite skill sets was important.  However, there was a disconnect between challenges and the capacity of institutions to respond.  Despite constructive national institutions, their influence and action were eroded by deregulation and other pressures.  At the international level, he said, there was no strong institution that could ensure positive change.  While it was true that labour dimensions in trade agreements were becoming more common, they were weak, aspirational and non-obligatory.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank needed to pursue more vigorously policies that helped labour and protected the vulnerable.


In an ensuing discussion, the representative of Venezuela stressed that if the current trend of job loss was not reversed, disaster would occur.  A kind of slavery among the workers had remerged, he said, calling it “a calamity”.  To that, Mr. BAKVIS said there was certainly recognition that the deregulation agenda of years past must be reversed to some point.  Mr. PADBURY said that at that point technologies were investing themselves, and today’s event was about providing a warning system to those who wanted to prepare and adapt.  He highlighted how much work had changed in the last century, saying it would only continue to do so.


Gabon’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the post-2015 development agenda must ensure that the “youth bulge” be translated into a demographic dividend by strengthening entrepreneurial capacity, supporting well-paid jobs and increasing access to finance.  Education and training policies must support the transformation and prioritize the specific needs of women and young people.  Education should go beyond primary and secondary school to encompass vocational and tertiary education.  Mr. TORRES stressed that quality employment had always been imperative to sustaining development, emphasizing the need to create institutions that promoted the creation of good jobs.


The representative of the European UnionDelegation said greater emphasis must be placed on decent work, social protection, and ensuring decent living standards.  Providing individuals seeking jobs support and continuing investment in skills training was essential to improve adaptability and employability.


Germany’s delegate called for gender-sensitive policy, saying that only through the empowerment of girls and women could a country fully benefit from its workforce.  She also asked about how salaries could be determined to ensure decent living conditions.  Responding to that, Mr. GREENE said one cannot run an economy or expect to maintain reasonably full-employment without fair wages.  Rather than a “race to the bottle”, wages and social protection programmes must be improved through a global strategy.  Mr. PADBURY said that although the way in which people add value was likely to change, those with relevant skills would be well-rewarded.


The representative of Suriname said that a number of ideas presented today in many parts of the world would sound like “science fiction”.  He pointed to the contradiction between the role of the private sector and Government — in that while the former was meant to create jobs, the latter’s social protection policies such as minimum wage seemed to hamper job creation.  The ideas of the private sector and the public sector were diverging at a time when they should be converging, he stressed.  In response, Mr. TORRES noted that progress had been made in designing labour markets and social and education regulations and, therefore, a process that facilitated growth and promoted job creation.


Mr. GREENE said the system was out of balance in many countries.  If there was a significant informal labour economy, policies such as minimum wage, tax, environmental, social protection were not applied.  The challenge for both Governments and the private sector was to pull all enterprises into a system that made it more attractive to be a legal enterprise rather than an illegal one.


Mr. SAJDIK, in closing, said success required the implementation of policies that provided incentives to develop economic sectors with the high capacity to generate employment and trained people in the right skills.  As the post-2015 agenda was being designed, the interconnectedness of jobs and education on the one side and poverty reduction and sustainable development on the other should be considered.  While the task was ambitious, the General Assembly and Economic and Social Council would continue to join forces to move towards a United Nations development agenda.  Such collaboration, together with regular interaction with the ILO, would add to the relevance and ambition of the march towards the future.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.