Artificial intelligence will force governments to devise national employment strategies

A study by the firm Oliver Wyman proposes eliminating bureaucratic obstacles to attract foreign talent while creating institutions that can coordinate with the private sector

An operator performs work at the Google data center in The Dalles, Oregon.

The labor market will be entering uncharted territory in the coming years. Although technological progress has traditionally been a double-edged sword for employment — while improving production, it forces transformations in the workforce — artificial intelligence and its immediate impact on all sectors of the economy will push things forward fast, prompting an accelerated rethinking of a paradigm shift that threatens to leave behind anyone unable to adapt in time. The responsibility for ensuring that this doesn’t happen lies with governments, which have several tasks ahead of them: to correctly analyze the current situation; to review, if necessary, the statistical sources from which they draw the reports that they use to make projections; and to demonstrate a willingness to collaborate with the private sector in pursuit of a common good. These are the main conclusions of a study by the consulting firm Oliver Wyman that seeks to address these future challenges.

“In this technological revolution, workers will have less time to adapt than in previous ones. [It] will take hold more quickly and, therefore, the workforce will have less room to maneuver and adapt,” reads the report authored by Pablo Campos, Gonzalo Arana, Tomás Sánchez and Jaime Gervás.

Along with this imminent labor transformation, there will be another transformation of the social sphere, which will go hand in hand with the progressive aging of the workforce. This will result, on the one hand, in an increase in the total payroll — workers with longer careers have better conditions and more experience — and, on the other, in an increase in the age of the customer base of businesses. “This will have an impact on the size of the sectors, as there will be less demand for products and services for young people (toys, nightlife) and more demand for products and services aimed at the elderly (elderly care, insurance),” the study claims.

The pairing of demographics with labor is nothing new, but the progressive increase in the retirement age and the increasingly late entry of younger workers into the job market will further increase generational tensions. “The unemployment and wage gaps between sectors are unmistakable indicators of the labor market’s difficulties in adjusting. It is therefore essential to implement mechanisms that reduce friction within the domestic labor market,” the report states.

All these currents of change are symptomatic of a general transformation that is yet to come, and whose final horizon will depend on the answer to the following question: what will the jobs of the future be like? According to the study’s various predictions, “work in the future will be more flexible, with more roles in human and care services… As a consequence of the evolution of new technologies, the demand for skills related to disruptive technologies will increase, the role of the employee as a ‘computer substitute’ (data collector and analyst) will be replaced by the role of the employee as ‘computer complement’ (team management, message transmission, emotion management), and will evolve toward a more human and assistive role.”

At the same time, the report makes clear that some of the remote-work formulas implemented in recent years — mostly as a result of the pandemic — will become an essential base-line requirement for workers. “Society has become accustomed to more flexible ways of working, giving rise to telecommuting, greater adaptability of working hours and digital communication. These trends will become established in the coming years, and it is even foreseeable that support for shortening the week to four days to favor work conciliation will increase,” stresses the text.

Financial stability

Governments will play the dominant role in managing this transition. And this management will have to be carried out on different time scales. To this end, the Oliver Wyman report suggests various actions be taken at different times. In the short term, the authors of the study suggest “simplifying and promoting the hiring of foreigners in sectors with low employment and a shortage of talent, eliminating obstacles in the processing of visas and residence permits”; in the short to medium term, “creating a body to coordinate between the private sector, educational institutions and the government in the promotion and identification of talent”; in the medium term, “support employee training or requalification for skills demanded by companies”; and in the long term, “revise existing educational opportunities (university and vocational training) in line with the demands of the domestic private sector to avoid brain drain.”

The economic umbrella is essential for the implementation of all these actions, especially those focused on the long term. For this reason, the report emphasizes the importance of “financial stability” and the collaboration between political parties necessary to foster it. “One possible solution to the demands of ideological and financial stability is the promotion of independent institutions similar to an Institute for the Future of Work, managed by independent administrators and dependent on public-private partnerships,” the study concludes.

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