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New forms of work require efforts from all stakeholders

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Challenges of future work will be best tackled through strong social policies and education, says EESC

Social security and avoidance of poverty must be given high priority in the face of the digital revolution, which will give rise to many new forms of work while providing both higher flexibility and more uncertainty for workers and employers, European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) warned in a recent opinion.

"Digitalisation will change our working life dramatically. We have to act now to ensure that the appropriate skills are available for the future," the EESC said in the opinion "Provision and development of skills, including digital skills, in the context of new forms of work: new policies and changing roles and responsibilities".

The opinion, adopted at the EESC plenary in September, was one of the two exploratory opinions drafted at the request of the Estonian Presidency of the Council on "new forms of work and skills".

Although as many as 95% of workers are still employed in traditional working places, high-capacity broadband networks will lead to the creation of many more atypical work forms, such as multiple part-time work and work with multiple contractors, or  "crowdworking" where workers offer their skills through networks of internet platforms as qualified professionals.

"The tendency in our society to shift from ‘normal’ employment to ‘atypical’ work… is a serious challenge for our social security systems," the EESC said in the opinion. People in this form of self-employment, who may have to conclude unreliable work contracts, are "digital nomads" who will need to be better protected by active labour market policies or may face poverty in old age, the EESC warned.

The EESC thus welcomed initiatives by some trade unions which have drafted a "code of conduct" for crowdworking platforms. "The EESC would like to see this development taken up by the Commission and applied at the European scale."

The future of work will also be strongly influenced by automation and robots, although it is still uncertain how many jobs will be lost and how many created as a result.

Although automation and robots have a potential to stabilize Europe’s ageing society, with increased productivity and growth of specific sectors such as health care or culture and education, the speed at which this is happening will lead to "distortions for which social dialogue may be needed at an early stage."

The best way to prepare for changes, the EESC argued, is by developing appropriate skills and competences.  The Committee said lifelong learning would become a necessity for everyone, and it would have to include professional training and informal learning "which should be supported as much as possible by an EU-wide harmonized system of certificates and standards". Special emphasis will have to be put on digital skills training, but also on social competencies necessary in an increasingly multi-local working environment.

However, general education remains the most powerful tool to prevent today's skills from becoming obsolete in the face of new and unpredictable challenges.

"The better the general education, the better the preparation for the unknown," the EESC concluded.

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