Over the past few decades, the fourth industrial revolution, also known as industry 4.0 or Digital 4.0, has emerged and taken technology to a whole new level with increased interconnectivity, real-time data and the Internet of Things (IOT). The world of work is rapidly changing as technological progress and the forces of neoliberal globalisation continue to re-shape the global labour market. However, Covid-19 has exposed the fragilities of the global economy, as supply chains across the world have been shortened to deal with the long-term impact(s) of the pandemic.
Already we are seeing record job losses on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. Car manufacturing has witnessed the lowest production since 1954, which has resulted in Renault cutting 15,000 jobs globally as production has been detrimentally impacted by the pandemic. The stories in other industries are just as gloomy. The airline industry is currently cutting back on flights due to strict border controls and a lack of appetite for international travel due to the worry of contacting the virus. Consequently, 400,000 airline workers have been made redundant, furloughed or told they will lose their jobs.
Covid-19 continues to displace jobs in sectors across the world; however the concern is that some traditional jobs will simply not return, at least to pre-Covid-19 levels. As business activity across Europe continues to drop, office spaces are reduced in size and the global economy remains in somewhat of a hibernation. This perspective was echoed by the Global Economic Prospects Report in June 2020, which describes the dire state of the global economy in the short and long-term. Their forecast predicts a 5.2% contraction in global GDP in 2020, the deepest global recession in decades, despite extraordinary efforts from governments around the world to mitigate the negative impacts by providing record-breaking fiscal and monetary policy support.
However, the crisis has highlighted the need for urgent action for the global economy, a re-making to help protect the most vulnerable populations in society. This is why it is imperative that emerging economies are protected and that future jobs that are environmentally sustainable are put at the forefront of our economic recovery packages.
In response to these concerns over industry, a deeper investigation on the future of work is imperative for us to understand how society and the economy can react to future crises, especially pandemics. Emerging markets such as Digital 4.0 offer new opportunities for the global economy to bounce back from recession and also help meet future environmental targets. However, without immediate policy action, labour market disparities will continue to increase, as the costs of structural changes in the future of work and not shared evenly throughout society.
The job losses that we are seeing due to Covid-19 will impact certain social groups more than others. It will also impact certain regions from workers who will disproportionally suffer from a lack of skills for the future of work. Failing to address the disparities will evidently result in deeper socio-economic divisions and implications for productivity, growth and social well-being.
On the positive side, Covid-19 has exposed the failing industries that are not compatible with environmental targets and thus, aided the identification of new emerging markets and opportunities for future growth. Digital 4.0 can be the lifeboat Europe needs to help save the economy and transform the lives of people from all walks of life. Currently, the demand for digital skills is greater than the supply of adequate employees, with the gap growing further. To put this into perspective, by 2022, emerging technologies will generate 133 million new jobs in place of the 75 million that will be displaced.
Many countries in Europe have been slow to respond to these changes in the future of work, with many Eastern European states falling behind those in the West. The recent labour market changes, which Covid-19 could accelerate, are closely tied to automation, robotics and the new wave of digital jobs replacing traditional industries. However, we must emphasise the need for timely action on the future of work so that vulnerable communities are not left behind as countries across the EU set out their economic recovery packages for Covid-19. To achieve this, the EU could adapt a similar approach to Southeast Asian countries for examples of how to implement structural change within the future of work. Currently, countries such as Japan and China are leading the way with Digital 4.0, and as a result, 38% of European companies resort to outsourcing to fulfil their AI needs and digital needs, driven by a lack of digital skills among their employees.
Despite the negative impacts of job losses across the EU, Covid-19 represents an opportunity to re-shape the economy and prepare for the future of work. Digital 4.0 offers a chance to help connect Europe in ways never seen before. The future of work is changing and Covid-19 has accelerated this transformation. Therefore, Europe must invest in digital skills so that people, especially those from vulnerable communities, are well-prepared to meet the demand for the future nature of work. The lessons we learn from this crisis will define us for decades to come, however Digital 4.0 can be the guiding light to help unite Europe for the future.
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Mason, A. (2020) Digital 4.0: The chance to reunite Europe, IDRN, 21 August. Available at: https://idrn.eu/economic-development/Digital-4.0-the-chance-to-re-unite-europe [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].