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Skills – a key to the technological development

| By Berit Kvam

The technological development; how does it impact our jobs, and which skills will we need? These questions were raised during the third Nordic conference on the Future of Work. They are hard to answer, as developments are continuing apace. How do authorities and the social partners face the changes? And how do we meet the skills demand? Who is responsible for what?

There is disagreement over the extent to which jobs will disappear because of digitalisation. It is more likely that the content of those jobs will change radically. The number of robots has doubled since 2010. The OECD thinks that number will double again over the next three to four years. We are witnessing rapid change.

Iceland’s fisheries industry is one example of radical changes in the workplace. Our story shows how the tech industry and fisheries have joined forces to develop a workplace where fish is processed untouched by human hands, and where no raw material is wasted. As a result, productivity is up, jobs have been lost, and the workers who are left need training.

Digitalisation also affects people with higher education, says Camilla Tepfers, who is keen to dispel the myth that young people are so much better with computers than older people. Getting rid of the senior employees is not always the best way of tackling the challenges. By letting the 60 year olds go, you risk losing competences within the company which the 25 year olds cannot replace. 

The myth that senior citizens lack interest and knowledge about technology development, can limit the innovation in welfare services, says Britt Östlund in Portrait.

Skills development and new technology must go hand in hand, be it in the health sector or the media sector. Employers, the state and the individual worker must all take their own share of the responsibility, says the Swedish Minister for Employment, and criticises Swedish employers for lagging behind. Are the parties ready? What is the state’s responsibility? And what happens if there is disagreement over who is responsible for what?

The Danish Disruption Council has explored how Denmark best can make use of the opportunities which the technological development brings. Danish employees must be equipped with the skills that the technological development demands, the council says. It hasprovided input to the Danish tripartite agreement on a stronger and more flexible system for continuing training.

The conference on the Future of Work heard several participants argue for greater flexibility throughout the education process. In Finland, a government-appointed panel has presented its report, ‘Ett ständigt lärande Finland’ (Finland – a country of continuous learning). The panel will in the end contribute with visions and proposals for how the education system can reform and adapt to the labour market. 

It is easy to be blinded by the technology, but we shape the future of work ourselves, says Jon Erik Dølvik, the Nordic researcher. He points to the same development trait which the ILO’s representative praises; the fact that the Nordic region has done well during times of change because of the flexibility the cooperation between the parties and the tripartite system offers. The Nordics have done so well in fact, that they could be digital leaders – with the right measures, according to the management consultancy firm McKinsey. Google is also entering the stage, both to provide training and education together with the Swedish Public Employment Service, to establish contacts with trade unions and to get access to Nordic countries.

Skills are hugely important when new technology is introduced. The people who will populate the labour market in 30 years from now, are already here, Dølvik points out. That is why Google is not looking to employ those who know how, but those who can learn.

This is about skills development in real life. It is necessary for preventing a skills gap and social inequalities, Ulrika Lindstrand tells the Nordic Labour Journal.


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