14 May 2020
The forthcoming technological revolutions will transform the very nature of our work; the questions are whether we’ll be ready for these changes or if we’ll be left behind, marred by our own inertia. At the same time, economic and technological changes will be catalysts for an emerging, new populism, especially under the circumstances of COVID-19.
The Future of Work: Scenarios for Central Europe
Before our new reality came crashing down on us earlier this year, we were already heading towards a revolution in our working lives due to the emerging technologies meant to aid or replace human labour. Cautious and diligent governments in Central Europe and across the world have been wary of how these technological advances will be utilised and what impact they might have on the society at large, especially those with considerable swathes of their population working in at-risk industries (i.e. Czechia and Slovakia).
Now, adding a measure of urgency to the situation, the global community needs to contend with the required social distancing from the Covid-19 pandemic, a widespread economic recession, surging unemployment, life-threatening disinformation as well as the rise of autocratic leaders: all of these catalysts are crisscrossing in a geopolitical security situation which has been deteriorating for years and will most likely speed up the technological transition in our societies.
For the people on the ground, many of these concerns have suddenly come to light with the social and economic lockdowns having for the first time a large, direct impact on their daily routines.
But let’s step back for a minute, and see what futures industry and technology had in mind for the labour market, apart from these external pressures.
Generally speaking, the future of work will be shaped mainly by the accelerating, although uneven, implementation of AI and automation into nearly every sector of the economy.
Certainly, the automation already realised in sectors like manufacturing and transportation will only increase and that would hardly be of any surprise, but the forthcoming application of AI in fields of finance, insurance, human resources, media, etc. will leave an abundant number of skilled, capable workers vulnerable.
There are benefits, of course, from this transition stemming from the prolongation of the working life for capable, experienced workers to fewer required hours and remote working opportunities for those living in more rural settings, those limited physically or those just wishing to have shorter commutes.
As with the internet before it, new sectors will develop, but if they will have time to mature before the negative impact of rising unemployment takes effect is not yet known.
It is essential, therefore, that governments prepare their people for this transition. Obviously, there are unknowns and the two major x- and y- factors are whether or not these technologies will be successful in achieving their promised level of development and if the countries themselves are capable of adapting to the reality if they do.
With these considerations in mind and knowing the anxiety that an uncertain working future holds, myself and Tomasz Kasprovicz – along with numerous #DemocraCE fellows – developed a free scenario-based report for Visegrad Insight on the Future of Work.
Like any monumental societal shifts in the past, these moments come with both opportunities and threats. It is quite plausible that non-democratic leaders and movements could take advantage of over-skilled and underemployed workers (A Recipe for Populism), or that xenophobic and economically-protective tendencies could grow when faced with considerable state and personal financial burdens (Missed Opportunities); optimism awaits, however, in a Central Europe that is able to adapt and shift their societies to the AI and automated reality quickly approaching (A New Golden Age), but stagnation is likely if the promises of AI will not be fulfilled (Arrested Development).
From these scenarios and knowing that none of them are mutually exclusive, we offer the following policy recommendations for Central European governments and the wider EU to consider when confronting the challenges posed by the Future of Work.
Galan Dall: An editor and author currently living in the United Kingdom. Editor-at-large at the Visegrad Insight in Warsaw, Poland, the main Central European platform of debate and analysis that generates future policy recommendations for Europe and the transatlantic partners. He is originally from the United States and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.