Speed, disruption and the future of work: It’s now, but are we ready?

By Anthony Gooch, OECD, Public Affairs & Communications Director


Digitalisation has been described as globalisation on steroids, given the remarkably rapid and disruptive shifts that have taken place over a mere generation. The greater penetration of Internet access and new applications of digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), big data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), are changing dramatically the way people interact, live, work, or spend their leisure time.

This transformation is exciting, challenging –but also complex. It is creating both opportunities and risks, and stress testing societal well– being in ways never seen before.

Inequalities in access and use of digital technologies by age, gender, education and other socio-economic markers imply that certain groups are better positioned than others to seize the benefits of digital technologies, particularly in terms of job opportunities and earnings. In OECD countries, almost 30% of people aged 55-65 lack computer experience or have failed tests for assessing core information and communication technology (ICT) skills.


While jobs are created in new technology sectors, others risk being destroyed by automation. OECD analysis has estimated that around 14% of jobs across the OECD area as a whole are at risk of automation, while another 32% are likely to see significant changes.

The impact of automation will be uneven within countries, widening inequalities in employment conditions across places. For example, between the best and worst performing regions in Canada, that share differs by just 1 percentage point, but it reaches 12 percentage points in Spain.  

Moreover, people in jobs most at risk of automation tend to be lower-skilled workers who are far less likely to have access to training. Across the OECD, only two in five adults participate in education and training in any given year. The most disadvantaged are least likely to train, with low-skilled adults three times less likely to undertake training than the high-skilled (20% vs 58%).

The digitalisation of the economy, notably online platforms and their role in creating “gig” jobs, has contributed to precarious forms of selfemployment, with less or no social security coverage. And while employment rates have been improving or remained stable in nearly 70% of OECD countries, labour market insecurity has been worsening in nearly 80% of them.



We need also to consider the different effects the digital transformation has on women and men. OECD research shows that women make greater use of the internet for health purposes and when searching for a job or for social networking. Women also obtain much larger labour market returns for their digital skills. On the other hand, more women than men report that they lack the skills to use e-government services and fewer women telework. Similarly, they are also less likely to use the internet to buy or sell goods and services, or to express their political opinion. And women are far more likely than men to be harassed or stalked on line.

To address all these challenges, the OECD is calling on policy makers to act now. Because the future of work is now and we need to catch up. We need to make our schools and training programmes, our workplaces and working conditions, our protection for when we are sick, out of work, or retired, fit for purpose in today’s future of work.

Training and reskilling programmes need to target people in jobs at high risk of automation, such as food preparation assistants or truck drivers, among others. It is vital that countries strengthen and adapt social protection systems to respond to the needs of the growing numbers of people engaged in non-standard forms of work. OECD evidence also reinforces the importance of locally tailored responses across policy areas. National policies need to be aligned with actions by regional and local governments if countries want to promote productivityenhancing automation and digitalisation that does sacrifice inclusion.

This is not a challenge that any one government, institution, firm or individual can tackle alone. We need to work together and we need all voices to be a part of the debate.

At the OECD, we know that we must more responsive to people’s needs, strengthen workers’ voices, and we think that the best way to achieve this is through humble listening.


I am the Future of Work

The OECD has recently launched the I am the Future of Work campaign, complementing our data and analysis with human-centric storytelling and citizen engagement. The campaign looks at four dimensions:


  • Digitalisation – How can technology shape the future of work in a positive way?
  • Job quality – How can we make sure job quality remains a top priority?
  • Skills and learning – How do we keep skills and learning relevant in the changing world of work?
  • Social protection – How can we improve social protection so that everyone benefits?


Through this campaign, we aim to raise awareness of the actions that need to be taken to ensure that the transformations in the world of work leaves no one behind. To do this, we must build conversations across sectors and countries, working together to tackle tough questions and to find solutions.

We need you to help us meet this challenge. The work that you do in the World Union of Professions is extremely important. Not only to share experiences and co-ordinate, but also to identify and foster good practices – valuable work for the world we live in today and the future we want for tomorrow. We invite you to visit our our campaign website and have your say. Because I am the future of work is about all of us. Tell us what matters to you and why. Share your experiences, ideas and suggestions. Together we can build a future that works.

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