COVID-19 has changed the world forever. Although the impact of the pandemic has been far from even, all of our lives have been disrupted and transformed by the coronavirus crisis – and things may never go back completely to the way they were before.
Therefore, the pandemic has created an opportunity for us to think about how we respond to the economic fallout from the pandemic and what type of global society and economy we want to build for the future.
To this end, the World Economic Forum (WEF) brought together experts to discuss how to build a fairer and more inclusive economy of the future.
As part of the discussions that were compiled in a report, the experts stated there was a need to create a more inclusive future of work that prioritizes creating quality jobs with decent wages and good working conditions.
This is in the context of the COVID-19 crisis causing the highest unemployment rate in the 21st century. In fact, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has found that the pandemic’s impact on jobs has been 10 times larger than that of the global financial crisis in 2008.
The WEF is concerned that there will be further spikes in global unemployment as the crisis continues due to the advent of new viral variants. This is also a worry since government furlough schemes will start to come to an end later this year – the UK’s scheme is set to end in September.
To tackle this disruption to jobs and work, the WEF report calls on collaboration between governments, employers, workers, unions, and workplace tech companies to figure out how to “build a vibrant and sustainable ecosystem with an employable and productive workforce in good-quality jobs paying decent wages”.
Creating more inclusive jobs
The WEF calls for a significant focus on creating new jobs in so-called ‘new economy’ sectors, including care and sustainable economies. This will also help to remove the barriers to women working, as well as reclassify what is considered ‘work’.
Further to this, the WEF notes there is a need to focus on fostering youth employment as younger generations have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Also, given the dramatic rise in unemployment globally, young people are now faced with even more barriers in landing a job.
To help get young people jobs, there is a need to focus on helping them develop the right skills and gain work experience.
Therefore, the WEF suggests that governments and companies need to expand apprenticeship programs, which can be balanced alongside education, and upskill unemployed young people to bridge existing skills gaps, such as in digital.
In addition, the WEF calls on governments to support workers in becoming entrepreneurs and building their own businesses since small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) generate up to 80% of jobs globally. This is particularly important in rural areas – but success here requires government investment in digital and IT infrastructure so that e-commerce can flourish.
Decent jobs need decent wages
In terms of improving wages for the future of work, the WEF recommends that governments need to implement and enforce national minimum and living wages. Businesses must then commit to paying living wages – not just minimum wages – and make sure that their suppliers or partners also do the same.
Another way to improve wages is through upskilling. Therefore, the WEF calls on businesses to provide skills-based training to their workers – particularly in the areas of innovation, creativity, global citizenship, digital, and interpersonal and intrapersonal skills – as well as create escalator jobs that allow people to move easily from low paid to better-paid roles.
In addition, any automation in the workplace must be responsible and come with the desire to upskill employees so they can effectively transition to the digital future of work.
The WEF also believes that the future of work requires new standards.
The report states there is a need to ensure “work is meaningful, purposeful and dignified while providing opportunities for personal development will both unlock human potential and support successful technology adoption.”
Decent work is also that which offers flexible working options to all. However, this must be done in a way that allows workers to have an appropriate work-life balance and doesn’t cause those working remotely to be excluded or disadvantaged regarding promotions.
Linked to this, the WEF calls on employers and governments to focus on wellbeing at work. This is something that has been accelerated by the pandemic, but the momentum needs to be maintained.
“Companies should put in place programs that can be customized to the needs of each employee and use data, including from employee surveys and self-reporting tools, to support program design and provide a comprehensive picture of workforce health and well-being (business, government, civil society),” noted the report.
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