People should remain central to the future of work

Francis Atwoli is the Secretary General of COTU (K). [Standard]

The future of work is at the heart of every major socio-economic-political discussion raging around the globe today. The landscape of work is witnessing a lot of changes as a result of the quick technological disruption at the marketplace. Technology is quickly inciting rapid shifts forward, humans, on the other hand, need time to catch-up.

A new digital topography has emerged, of bright people solving incredibly complex problems using tools that are improving by the day.

Power emanates from work, and from the money it generates. This is particularly noticeable now as people understand that work is changing more quickly than ever before. Rising to the challenge of this changes requires skilling at all levels.

Heads of organisations and employees seem more eager than ever to free establishments of bad management, bureaucracy, stifling hierarchy and an utter lack of purpose. Hard skills are becoming obsolete, rendering soft skills such as communication, research and problem-solving along with teamwork and creativity skills, among others, increasingly important. Organisations are continuously looking into how new computer programmes and machinery can help them reduce costs and improve efficiency. 

While some people are excited about these new developments, others aren’t. So, what will be the best jobs of the future? Will the marketplace of the future be a model for gender parity, with women enjoying equal prospects to men in terms of seniority and salary? Or will these new norms increase or eliminate all forms of child labour?

New norms, challenges and opportunities keep emerging. According to World Economic Forum estimates by 2022, more than half of employees will have to upskill or reskill, meaning that many workers will have to either gain additional expertise relating to their positions or learn brand new skills entirely.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its recent report has recommended that work in the future be human-centred. Created in 1919, in the aftermath of the First World War, this United Nations Labour body is commemorating 100 years of championing decent work and fair globalisation.

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In many African countries, informal economies translate to 66 per cent of the total employment throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

ILO reasons that the future of employment is not going to be determined alone by technology but by choices to be made by policymakers and it is perfectly possible, with the application of exactly the same technologies, to create what we would regard as very positive employment-rich solutions.

New landscapes

The organisations are well suited to act as a compass and a guide in order to help open up new landscapes for coming generations at work. As we remould and reshape to align with this new developments, we should redesign our enterprises to be people-centered characterised by social justice within the workplace, democratic control and prioritising human development.

Therefore, we should, in depth and breadth measure and instil gender parity, human dignity, better prospects for personal development and social integration as well as freedom of expression, among others. And as Central Organisation of Trade Union (COTU-K), we are ready to work with companies who are committed to taking an accelerated, future-oriented approach to new regulations and civil society expectations. Indeed, Sustainable Development Goal 8 calls out “Decent Work and Economic Growth.

Meanwhile, when we think of the skills most likely to be automated, routine and repetitive tasks like filling in an accounting form come to mind. Everyone is under pressure to outrun the machine. Some will meekly submit, others will violently rebel.

Some of the jobs of the future will be highly technical, but some won’t. Some are already observable in the marketplace.

But, are workers’ skills up to date?

Skills are the currency of the 21st century and, together with education, they are crucial factors influencing the future of our societies and economies. Let organisations match workers’ skills with the future needs of the labour market. By orchestrating more tailor-made and customised interventions, they can achieve better results and nurture the context within which both individuals and firms can thrive.

In this vein, training, learning and development are critical to technology-enabled workplaces, yet many organisations are failing to deliver enough. Imperatively, organisations, should engage in continuous and personalised learning that allows individuals to design their own learning journey in a way that is responsive to the needs of their roles and standards across all businesses in order to manage digital transformation effectively.  

Also, Kenya should substantially increase the number of youths and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.

Thus, unprecedented innovations brought about by technology offer countless opportunities which should be embraced through action, so as to get rid of inequality and uncertainty. Without decisive action, we will be sleepwalking into a world that widens gender gap, promotes child labour and increases human unfairness in world of work.

In the end, the real conversation we are having is not about the future of work, but about the future of people, women and men, who are workers.

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sub-Saharan AfricaCOTUFrancis Atwoli