Technology, ICTs & the future of work

pippa-blog-jan2016-ICTsUNDP has just released its annual Human Development Report (HDR), entitled “Work for Human Development”, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first edition. This year’s Human Development Report explores how work can enhance human development despite substantial challenges, given that the world of work is changing fast due to globalization and the technological revolution. ITU welcomes this report, especially coming as it does at a time of growing economic uncertainty for the global economy – a point underlined by the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s “World Economic & Social Outlook 2016” released today.

Of the world’s 7.3 billion people, 3.2 billion are in jobs, while others engage in care work, creative work, voluntary work, study or training to prepare themselves as future workers. The report observes that “people are the real wealth of nations, and human development focuses on enlarging people’s choices… and the richness of human lives”. It concludes that “work can enhance human development, but some work damages it – the link between the two is not automatic”, especially where there is violence and discrimination at work. Speaking at the launch, Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP, underlined that a number of challenges prevent people from entering and participating in the world of work.

With regards to work and information and communication technologies (ICTs), the report discusses whether automation could result in overall job losses, observing that “many jobs are already disappearing or are vulnerable. Broad swathes of middle management risk being eliminated”. However, the report discusses the counterargument – others argue that computers are very far from being able to use creativity, intuition, persuasion and imaginative problem-solving, while the complementarity between machines and people is crucial. The Report concludes that “either way, technology will leave many people behind, and some human skills may be more valuable than ever”.

Technology and ICTs have helped transform markets, through: the knowledge economy, personalized goods and services, new business services, the sharing economy, start-ups, crowdworking and more flexible working methods. Technological advances are engines for new forms of creativity and innovation, and the report discusses both the drivers and impact of the technological revolution on jobs, productivity, wages and income inequality.

The report makes the case that women are particularly disadvantaged in the world of work. Of 59% of work that is paid – mostly outside the home – men’s share is nearly twice that of women – 38% versus 21%. This picture is reversed for unpaid work, mostly within the home and encompassing a range of care responsibilities. Of the 41% of work that is unpaid, women perform three times more than men-31% versus 10%. Helen Clark called for gender equality – “it stands to reason that whole societies are worse off, if women can’t participate on an equal basis, where women account for half the population”.

From a global perspective, the HDR relates the changes in work to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved recently by the UN. Closer to home, ITU is mobilizing partners for its EMERGE partnership to explore the impact of ICTs for promoting entrepreneurship and tech start-ups.

The HDR 2016 is a comprehensive and insightful report that examines the trends shaping the world of work, including the technological revolution and the future of work in the digital age. We applaud UNDP on another landmark report with significant implications for development efforts going forward

By Pippa Biggs

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Pippa Biggs is Senior Policy Analyst and Content Coordinator of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development. She is lead author and editor of the annual “State of Broadband” report charting the latest trends in the global broadband industry. Pippa has previously worked for the World Economic Forum, UNCTAD and Deloitte.

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