With the increasing expansion of automation and artificial intelligence, the issue is how the nature of work itself is changing in a constantly developing digital world, demanding constant adaptation. This is the challenge faced by every age group in the workforce.
A number of studies published in recent years paint a bleak picture of future employment, predicting the loss of millions of jobs.
“Even though there is no hard data on the scale of automation in the future, it’s undeniable that a very big change is on the way that cannot be ignored,” says Byron Nicolaides, president and CEO of PeopleCert, a company that specializes in professional skills testing and certification.
Nicolaides is also head of the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies (CEPIS) and spoke at length about the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution at its general assembly in Dublin earlier this month.
There is a paradox, he said, in the fact that while international organizations are warning of massive job losses stemming from developments in robotics, there is also a serious shortage of people with digital skills in the labor force. In Europe alone there will be a shortage of about 500,000 ICT professionals by the end of 2020. Official European Union figures, meanwhile, show that within the next few years, 90 percent of jobs will require digital skills, a serious concern given that 60 percent of the workforce today is not acquainted with that technology beyond the basics.
The Greek crisis may have been devastating for the economy but also created an opportunity to rethink the future of supply and demand, Nicolaides argued, saying that Greece is in a position to create half a million jobs in information technology and particularly in programming, according to the findings of a study carried out by CEPIS, the Hellenic Professionals Informatics Society (HEPIS), the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB) and the Alba Graduate Business School. This is good news for a country that has seen some 50,000 of its most highly skilled workers leaving in search of better professional prospects abroad.
To this end, Nicolaides also spearheaded the six-month Coding Bootcamp, which was inaugurated in 2017 by CEPIS in cooperation with the AUEB and Alba. Since then 400 people have graduated and over 90 percent found work immediately.
“The people who took part in the program did not have any particular relationship with technology and came from a range of professional backgrounds. We had biologists and even priests among them, who are now working in IT after six months of training,” he explained.
“Why can’t Greece become like Israel?” Nicolaides asked the assembly. In 2015 Israel had the biggest number of high-tech companies and startups in the world per capita and spent 4.4 percent of its gross national product on research and technology.
“Technology moves fast. Things are changing rapidly and becoming increasingly interconnected. It is a challenge for governments to adapt to these new realities,” stressed the CEPIS president.
International digital skills standards bolster job seekers’ prospects in an age when finding employment is a growing challenge, especially for young people.
“We want the digital skills certification to have the same credibility in Asia and Africa as it does in Europe,” said Damien O’Sullivan, CEO of the nonprofit International Computer Driving License (ICDL), initially known as u0395CDL because it started in Europe before expanding to more than 100 countries around the world.
ICDL has provided certification to some 60 million students, workers and professionals across a range of fields and government agencies, including services inside the European Union and in many countries in the developed and developing world.
“What we are selling is employability for the workers of the future and productivity for employers,” O’Sullivan told the CEPIS general assembly, stressing that computer literacy is crucial in light of the rapid development of technology, particularly since employers will not necessarily feel obliged to invest in staff training.
O’Sullivan described two parallel realities, one concerning how we live in a digital world and the other how we work it in. Unfortunately, he said, the distance between the skills needed to stay connected on social media and those needed to get a job is great, even among the younger generation. As a case in point, he quipped about his daughter, who is perfectly comfortable navigating social media but cannot put together a PowerPoint presentation.
Starting at school
Tom O’Sullivan of the Irish Computer Society (ICS) stressed that the earlier in life a person begins their digital education, the more prepared they will be for the constantly changing and increasing demands of the future.
Dublin is home to some of the world’s biggest tech firms thanks to Ireland’s favorable tax system – which has, however, provoked the consternation of several foreign governments. These are companies that provide well-paid jobs and give Ireland a significant competitive advantage vis-a-vis much larger economies. Twenty-three percent of Ireland’s private sector workforce of 2.2 million are employed by these multinationals, making computer proficiency that much more important to the economy.
The ICS has 14,000 members ranging from tech firms to hospitals. It also actively promotes digital education at school, as the country strives to build a highly skilled workforce to meet the demands of the future.
CEPIS – which started with four members in 1990 and today has 30 in 29 European countries – notes that the technological advances we can expect in the next 20 years will be greater than those of the past 200.
Is the world prepared for the fourth industrial revolution? It is a constant process that relies on the education of the workforce, the experts say.
“This is a new reality that we all have to come to terms with, even those who are in their 60s and 70s,” said Tom O’Sullivan. The experts also argue that apart from the workforce, governments and state agencies also need to be prepared for the coming changes. For example, says Tom O’Sullivan, the rules governing ICT professions need to become more stringent given the rise of internet crime, from the theft of money from users’ accounts to illegal data mining on social media.
“We don’t have a regulatory framework, so something needs to be done to that end,” he said.