MARKET | Nov 6, 2018

Has the future of work already arrived?

Artificial Intelligence, Robotization and jobs that previously didn't exist: what has changed and what has still to change?

“Digital transformation has such a profound impact on the economy, society and people that we are forced to reflect on what things will become – and among them work – when they are touched by the digital era, the transformative power of which produces a real change of meaning. In the case of work, this touches not only the “how” we work (think of smart working, new forms of work, the change in locations, contexts and work tools), but above all the “what” and its destiny to represent work in the society of the no longer so ‘new’, millennium”.

Thus Stefano Epifani, President of the Digital Transformation Institute, summarizes the future of work. Among a wealth of numbers, research and forecasts, one thing is certain: the world has changed and with it, the professions. “65% of children currently entering primary schools will have completely new jobs, which do not yet even exist“. An apparently futuristic forecast, reported by The Future of Jobs of the World Economic Forum, which has already come true for many emerging professions. If it is true that in fact by 2022 automation “will eliminate” 75 million jobs, at the same time, according to said World Economic Forum, another 122 million will be created; requiring different skills, this is certain.

Where do ICT specialists work today?

According to the report Companies that hire ICT specialists, published in July 2018 by Anpal, there are over 8 million ICT professionals in Europe and Britain holds the record with 1.6 million digital specialists, followed by Germany (1.5 million) and France (1 million). Italy, suffering from this point of view, lies in 22nd place among EU countries for the amount of ICT specialists among the total number of employees: 2.6% against a European average of 3.7%.

Which are the most requested profiles?

Almost 200 thousand recruitment IT specialists were appointed in Italy in 2017, with a prevalence of requests seeking profiles such as audio-video equipment technicians and video-cinematographic experts (68,821 contracts) and audio-video-cinematographic editing technicians (26,103). Following these, with a lower number of appointments, are sound technicians (18,185), analysts and software designers (15,293), programming technicians (12,553), technical applications experts (11,939) and system analysts (5,704).

The type of contracts offered for many of these skills, according to the Anpal report, are highly fragmented; mostly offering short and very short-term employment.

What is the identikit of the IT specialist?

Workers in this sector are Italian men, under 40 and most likely, given the geographic distribution of recruitment in 2017, with employers from Lombardia (the region where 5.2% of all employers are concentrated), Lazio (4.3%) or Piedmont (4%).

According to EY, in most cases companies do not have a medium-term workforce plan that takes account of existing skills and possible future developments.

What about those with digital skills?

Istat and Eurostat confirm the by now “traditional” sparse diffusion of digital skills within the Italian entrepreneurial system. In 2017 only 16.2% of companies with at least 10 employees employ ICT experts and only 2.9% of all companies recruiting in 2017, excluding the Public Administration, requested digital skills.

According to EY, only 29% of the workforce in Italy possess significant digital skills, compared to an EU average of 37%; a gap that is destined to widen due to the low participation of workers in training initiatives (8.3% Italian vs. 10.8) and the fact that no more than 20% of large companies (and very few SMEs) have changed their training methods.

This is a real pity, because poor digital skills are an obstacle to the growth of companies according to the Assintel Report 2019. “By means of the annual report and the digital skills observatory – states Assintel President, Giorgio Rapari  – we monitor the demand and supply of ICT-related skills. And every time, to our huge regret, we realize that there are no company figures who have the skills to rethink and redesign processes in digital terms. Along with this there is a lack of technicians; people adequately trained to monitor and guide the digital transformation of companies. In addition, the educational, training systems are unprepared for rapid changes in the market: a properly structured alternate school-university-work system would be required, to allow companies to stabilize by finding a new work force among the younger generation. It would also be useful to have a regulatory framework that guarantees the necessary flexibility in work contracts, in order to maintain what I call “digital sites”, namely places for work and experimentation where skilled workers do not just obtain certificates but are also tested in the field”.

What is the future of work?

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning  are no longer future technologies, but are already applying traction within companies, often with positive impacts on both the company and the workers. This is the message that emerged from The Future of Work in a World of AI, ML and Automation , held at the CIO Symposium 2018, which discussed a US Department of Labour project that, via the creation of a data-set called  ONET, examined hundreds of professional profiles in order to understand which of these could be better performed by AI ​​rather than human beings.  The team found that for many types of work there are tasks that artificial intelligence can do better than humans, but that at the same time there are still many tasks in which man excels over Artificial Intelligence and Automation. No substitution then, but simply a change of tasks and skills.

What will workers be like in a few years?

A report by recruiter Michael Page outlines the possible changes, describing the skills (defined as liquid) that are indispensable for men and not replicable by machines: ability for in-depth analysis and judgment, curiosity and knowing how to behave in complex situations. Furthermore, biohacking will be a reality; namely, the installation of microchips that will allow workers to “upgrade” and support the many robots that will take on repetitive, data-based automated tasks. For the purpose of alleviating long, boring or physically strenuous tasks, a type of robot, called cobots will be built specifically to collaborate with, rather than completely substitute, humans.

Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director of MIT’s Task of the Future Task Force, reassuringly states: “There will be work in the future and our challenge is to make sure that this work is one of quality and that it is accessible”.

Sonia Montegiove