Managing the digital transformation in the Nordics
The transition into a digital age is challenging the future of work and the occupational structures in society. In the financial sector, we see this development through the introduction of AI, Robo-advisors, big data and Regtech, which requires extensive reskilling and upskilling of employees. It is, however, essential to take control of the narrative on the digital transformation so that employees are not left alone in this societal transformation.
The Nordic region has been an enthusiastic adopter of digital technology, and the transformation is expected to continue. The financial sector has also adapted to this new age, and both routine jobs and middle-skilled jobs are being impacted by automation. Employees are, therefore, forced to improve their competencies to keep up. This puts the burden on individual employees to adapt, although the tools for making this transition are not always there or even clear.
In the debate about the digital transformation, there is a tendency to frame the issue as a phenomenon ”happening” to employees – beyond anyone’s control. This is a smart move because by depoliticizing the issue, those responsible do not need to be accountable for the consequences. By portraying digital transformation as a path towards jobless societies, questions about reskilling and upskilling are put under the shadow of this illusion. Trade Unions should, however, not fall into that trap as it is important to challenge that narrative and demand a just transition for employees.
Throughout history, technological progress has posed the question of the future of work and human labor. Nevertheless, as technology has advanced and altered some tasks, other tasks have been created through the increased purchasing power of businesses and consumers. According to a OECD study there is an overestimation of amount of jobs that will be automated. In a McKinsey & Company study from 2017, the authors underline the exaggeration of the illusion of a jobless future because of the current digital transformation. This is especially true for Northern Europe, where digitalization might actually have a positive employment effect. Getting stuck in the illusion of a jobless future postpones the discussions of how the Nordic societies should transform into this new age and stalls the process of reskilling and upskilling of employees.
A more nuanced way is to see the digital transformation as a process that can bring new and more advanced jobs to society. For financial employees, digitalization can be an opportunity to ease the administrative burden, an opportunity to improve the work environment, and create more stimulating tasks. For the consumers, this change can improve the quality of advice and help them making well-informed decisions. For the employers, the digital transformation can be an opportunity to increase the quality of the work, which will lead to sustainable business, rather than having the sole purpose of replacing employees with machines.
As we soon enter 2020, it is crucial to once again emphasize the challenges and opportunities with the digital transformation. Fortunately, there is a lot of potential in the Nordics, as years of cooperation and dialogue between trade unions, and the employers provide a good and strong base to deal with structural change. Yet, it is important to stress that this is a shared responsibility as the transformation needs to be addressed at a societal level. As we are progressing and becoming more digitally advanced, it is important to gather all relevant stakeholders, such as trade unions, employers, governments, universities, to design a sustainable route for life-long learning – it is time to drop the delusion of a jobless society.