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While the transition from subsistence agriculture to the consolidation of the industrial economy took over a century, the new digital communication technologies are accelerating the pace of all manner of change in the world of work, including growth in the service sector.

My work has been the same for years. Some time back, I made a change and got a new employer. I thought I had the needed skills for different kind of jobs. However, who need the skills I got fifteen years back? Who needs an employee that is clever and has skills that the labour market needed years back?

The digital revolution encompasses various disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, e-business, blockchains and big data. Its pervasiveness has led to sweeping social, economic, and cultural change, including personal relations, leisure, consumption habits, production systems, marketing, distribution, and labour. Technological innovation is transforming every part of our lives. The ability to quickly and cheaply exchange large amounts of data and information has laid the foundations for the rise of the digital economy and digital labour platforms. In both developed and developing countries, businesses and consumers have embraced this transformation, as services and goods are delivered in cheaper and more convenient ways. Digital labour platforms are now part of our everyday lives.

The Digital Economy is Transforming the World of Work.

Digital transformation affects economies and societies in complex and interrelated ways, demanding more strategic approaches. Digital transformation affects my work. Not only my work. It affects my everyday life and every around me. The digital economy is based on digital computing technologies, the internet, and the World Wide Web. The digital economy also includes what we call Internet Economy, New Economy, or Web Economy.

The digital economy is transforming the world of work. The digital economy is challenging my job security. Over the past decade, the expansion in broadband connectivity and cloud computing, along with innovations in information and communications technologies, have enabled economic transactions and the exchange of large amounts of data and information between individuals, businesses and devices. Data is increasingly a key asset driving the digital economy. Related to these transformations is the proliferation of digital platforms in several sectors of the economy.

People regularly work from different offices, their home, or a local coffee shop – now even more so since the pandemic has pushed remote working to the fore. While our work has changed, we all expect the same level of connectivity experienced in the physical office. The emergence of this flexible, global enterprise requires organisations to manage a dynamic ecosystem of talent and enable next-generation digital business processes that prove effective, even when distributed across various places and time zones. [1]

Digital labour platforms are a distinctive part of the digital economy. They allow individuals or business clients to arrange a ride, order food or find a freelancer to develop a website or translate a document, among many other activities and assignments. By connecting businesses and clients to workers, they are transforming labour processes with major implications for the future of work. [2]

The Digital Economy Over the Last Thirty Years

The pace at which technological advances and innovations are taking place is unprecedented. The information and communications technology (ICT) revolution of the early 1990s led to a rapid diffusion and adoption of the internet that transformed many economic sectors and reshaped regional, national and international markets. It led to a geographical fragmentation of industry as firms could subcontract, outsource and offshore through global supply chains at a relatively low cost. The expansion of broadband connectivity and high-speed internet availability enabled the rapid development of digital infrastructure from the early 2000s. Widespread use of the internet and ICT devices by businesses and individuals paved the way for web transactions (on platforms such as Amazon and eBay) and laid the foundation for the digital economy [2].

Over the past decade, the availability of cloud infrastructure and computing services has facilitated the growth of digital platforms that have gradually penetrated almost all sectors of the economy. One can identify three broad categories of such platforms: those that provide digital services and products to individual users, such as social media; those that mediate the exchange of goods and services, such as e-commerce or business-to-business platforms; and those that mediate and facilitate labour exchange between different users, such as businesses, workers and consumers, including digital labour platforms such as Upwork or Uber. These platforms redefine the means of economic exchange and increasingly shape the world of work [2].

In the last years, we have seen the development of data-intensive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) offer greater consumer choice and personalisation. The use of data – whether sold to third parties or used by firms to advertise or tailor their own products – has become integral to business models.

Digital technologies and data are increasingly shaping and facilitating scientific research. Scientists are generally positive about the impacts of digitalisation on their work, with digital technologies facilitating science across borders, collaboration and efficiency.

We can readily observe rapid innovation in many digital products in daily use. For example, smartphones and the networks they rely on are moving to implement 5G technology despite 4G (LTE) networks only beginning commercial rollout a decade ago. At the same time, online email and video streaming services are implementing increasingly sophisticated features underpinned by machine learning and AI. These advances culminate from a vast array of research and innovation activities. [3]

Skills, Jobs, and Locations do Not Always Match

Educational systems have not kept pace with the changing nature of work, resulting in many employers saying they cannot find enough workers with the skills they need. In a McKinsey survey of young people and employers in nine countries, 40 per cent of employers said lack of skills was the main reason for entry-level job vacancies. Sixty per cent said that new graduates were not adequately prepared for the world of work. One of the mismatchings is locational: there may not be available and qualified workers to be found where there is demand for work. We can see this geographic mismatch across regions within countries and between countries. [4]

While today’s technology sectors produce fewer jobs than the ones that preceded them, their indirect impacts on job creation are far greater as they create additional demand for non-tradable in the local economy, in turn explaining the shift in employment from manufacturing to services experienced by most advanced economies.

Digitalisation is transforming business landscapes and the world of work and redefining production, consumption, and distribution boundaries. This has created tremendous opportunities, as new products, processes, and techniques have emerged, but has also created threats, as new ways of employment pose new challenges to employers and employees.

Will the near future offer me a job, or will the future expect me to reskill?


[1] What is digital economy? (https://www2.deloitte.com/mt/en/pages/technology/articles/mt-what-is-digital-economy.html)

[2] World Employment and Social Outlook 2021, The role of digital labour platforms in transforming the world of work, International Labour Organization 2021

[3] OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2020

[4] James Manyika, Technology, jobs, and the future of work, McKinsey Global Institute 2017

Lucubrate Magazine, May 2021

The photo on the top of the article: Adobe Stock

Fencing the land (Photo: Karl Skaar)

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Karl Skaar

Is a highly successful professional, with a high degree of entrepreneurial flair.

- Senior Analyst in the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training, Norway
- Responsible editor and publisher of the Lucubrate Magazine, Global
- Project Manager of the Lucubrate Project, Global
- Chairman of Board of Directors of Nobel Knowledge Building, Uganda
- Chairman of Board of Directors of Norsk Kompetansebygging AS, a Consultancy company, Norway
- Member of the Board of Directors of Norwegian International Development Company AS, Norway

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