The Future of Work in Central Europe
The forthcoming technological revolutions will transform the very nature of our work. It is unclear whether we will be ready for these changes or whether we will be left behind, marred by our own inertia.
At the same time, economic and technological changes will be catalysts for a new, emerging populism, especially under the circumstances of COVID-19.
Will our jobs keep pace? How to prepare economies, and citizens, for fast-approaching technological advances? Can life-long learning and re-skilling be the key to success?
The subject of a recent Visegrad Insight Breakfast discussion in partnership with the European Liberal Forum deals with the issue of “Future of Work: Keeping Pace with Digitalisation”. The online event took place on 23 July 2020.
Left out of the process
At the meeting, Albin Sybera, journalist, consultant and a former official at the State Environmental Fund of the Czech Republic, pointed out several paradoxes regarding digitalisation processes.
On one hand, we can clearly see its advancements as a certain unprecedented form of progress for humanity, while at the same time the region of Central and Eastern Europe lives its “classical time of industrialisation”.
In Czechia, despite the ongoing digitalisation and technological developments, portions of the society are still left out of the process.
Drastic changes in the last two decades
Georg Eder, digital transformation expert and author of “Work 4.0: Automation and the European Labour Market”, highlighted the fact the rising inequality in the past months across the globe is a marker of the asymmetry of the coronavirus crisis. The financial crisis of 2008 showed how an economic downturn may translate into a political crisis: as the general standards of living drops, political divisions rises leading more people to the vote populist and rightist politicians.
The issue of technological transformation is thus related to societal changes. The way this process works is an astonishingly hard to follow since the technology does not impact the labour market unilaterally.
On the one hand, it might mean large tech companies creating jobs, but on the other hand it could result in an increasing number of individuals losing their jobs, especially those less in less creative industries or which are based on repetitive labour activities.
One possible answer to the question of how the digital transformation works can be found in the scope (or the sum) of the tasks the worker is doing in perspective, applicable both to high skilled and low skilled jobs. This is an approach used in the “Work 4.0” study.
For instance, we can observe drastic changes in the last two decades. Eder: “With time, the nature and number of tasks change, facilitated by technology. For example, a car mechanic’s job has been changing with advances in technology and ultimately leads into a new, more technologically focused direction: the mechatronic.”
Real threat to the region
Joanna Tyrowicz, Professor of Economics at the University of Warsaw, leader of the Group for Research in Applied Economics (GRAPE), emphasised that, if one thinks in long-term perspective, it is obvious that computers will become cheaper, but workers will not become cheaper.
Therefore, the whole wave of automatisation and robotization of labour processes, which Western Europe experienced in the course of the 1980s and the 1990s, is going to involve Central and Eastern Europe and thus it will have a similar, negative impact on employment.
Until this trend arrives, the region is taking advantage from the fact that some tasks are not easily codifiable. In other words, the state of the art regarding digitalisation of labour processes is actually helping the region to catch up with the wave of jobs based on highly skilled human capital.
A real threat for the region will be the question, how to keep creating jobs for high skilled workers when this human capital will become drastically more expensive than machines?
When these tipping points will be reached, we might observe similar waves as in Western Europe, with a notable difference that in Western Europe it mostly concerned low or medium-skilled manual workers, while in Central and Eastern Europe it will chiefly have an effect on high skilled service sector workers.
This is the summary of an event organised by ELF in cooperation with Visegrad Insight.