Digitisation, jobs and the road to Rome

Source: A. (Andrus) Ansip i, published on Friday, March 17 2017.

I often speak at events about digitisation and the positive contribution it makes to society and the wider economy. Last week was a little different.

I had the opportunity to talk about a more controversial aspect of digital change: its impact on jobs.

This was in a speech that I gave at CEEMET, the employers’ organisation for Europe's metal, engineering and technology-based industries.

Firstly, I think it is important to remember that not everyone welcomes technological change. Digitisation - also automation and robotics - directly affects employment.

Some people are justifiably anxious about how this might affect them. Not only that: they fear losing their jobs.

History also shows that these kinds of change are not new.

Yes, some jobs will change. Some jobs will disappear and be replaced by machines and new processes. This is going to happen.

But similar fears were expressed about the Industrial Revolution, and in the long run, it ended up creating millions of jobs.

Today, companies and industries know that they need to modernise in order to stay profitable and competitive. That means going digital to keep up with their rivals.

As it replaces and changes the tasks of today, evolving digital technology will create other new jobs and services for tomorrow.

With manufacturing, some jobs are disappearing, it is true. Others will profoundly change.

But it is also true that there will be new jobs needed in future manufacturing that will be more high-tech.

To begin with, they will demand at least an understanding of automation. It is an employment opportunity.

I firmly believe that progress will create more jobs than destroy them. And when it comes to digital progress, we cannot afford to lag behind. If we do, it will ultimately have a negative impact on Europe's growth, jobs and wealth creation.

These important issues should perhaps be heard about more often.

Next week, in Rome, we will raise them again, at a Digital Day that will be part of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the signature of the Treaties of Rome.

The Digital Day will put Europe’s future in the spotlight.

It will explore the increasing role that digital plays in the daily life of Europeans and the European economy. It will focus on how the EU can make the most of new technologies so that it stays faithful to its first objectives and improves people's lives.

There will be dedicated sessions on several themed areas, including on digitising European industry and on digital transformation's impact on jobs and skills.

I cannot underline enough the importance of helping people to master the changes to their jobs as a result of digitisation.

Having the right skills is essential: digital skills, along with re-skilling and up-skilling as required, and as employment situations change.

Here is an online poll to assess which skills people think are important to do their job better:

The EU already does a lot of work in this area, with many long-running schemes and programmes. But we are always open to new ideas to improve how we help.

CEEMET and their trade union partners at IndustriAll took things into their own hands and wrote a joint manifesto about how best to help workers and companies navigate the challenges - and opportunities - that are presented by digitisation.

Social partners, along with governments and the education sector, can make a difference.

They are in a position to help equip Europeans with the skills to fill the digital jobs that will be increasingly available in the years ahead.

And I challenge them to do so.

Before the Digital Day takes place in Rome on March 23, I would welcome people's views on these and other issues we will discuss over the day - here is the agenda - via Twitter would be a good way to do this, using the #TellAnsip hashtag.

Another blog soon.