Digital technology is at the heart of today’s economic growth discussion. While COVID-19 is undoubtedly accelerating the adoption of new technology, technical improvements have already altered the world over the last two decades, from living standards to the nature of our employment.
Fears about robot-induced unemployment are on the rise, as robots and artificial intelligence are increasingly used to perform tasks that were previously handled by humans. Low-skill employment and routine tasks — those most vulnerable to automation and offshore — are threatened by the falling cost of machines.
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Technology, on the other hand, has the potential to create jobs. Business expansion can be aided by increased efficiency brought on by digital technology. Digital platforms have the potential to develop new professions and employment. Businesses can reach out to markets that aren’t well-served by infrastructure. To redefine technology as a job generator, policymakers and businesses must first grasp what the current wave of technology is altering and how they can adapt.
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The foundations of change
Some aspects of the state of technological progress were particularly noticeable even before the pandemic.
First, technology was already affecting industrial processes, particularly as digital platforms grew rapidly. The conventional borders of organizations have been challenged by digital technology, which has changed global value chains and job locations. After all, technology lowers the cost of conducting business, which complements infrastructure expenditures, free trade agreements, and other trade liberalization measures to lower trade barriers, expanding global value chains, and shifting job locations.
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New company models, such as digital platform corporations, have been able to quickly grow from local start-ups to global behemoths, with few employees and real assets. In impoverished rural areas, digital channels have fostered the formation of company clusters.
Second, technological advancements have resulted in significant changes in the mix of skills required to compete in the labor market. While the demand for routine, job-specific skills is decreasing, the demand for skills that cannot be replaced by robots is increasing. These include cognitive skills such as critical thinking, as well as socio-behavioral skills such as managing and recognizing emotions, which help teams work better together. The changing nature of work necessitates adaptive abilities that allow workers to move more readily from one duty to the next.
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Third, digital technology has altered the working environment. Rather than “traditional” long-term contracts, digital technologies have paved the way for more short-term labor, which is generally done through online work platforms.
What impact will these modifications have in the post-Covid-19 era?
The pandemic is expected to amplify these pre-existing patterns while also heightening the urgency of governmental responses. Some points appear to be self-evident. Markets are being dominated even more by “platform corporations.” As brick-and-mortar retailers struggle to compete, we’re already seeing Amazon and Alibaba grow even bigger and stronger. To be more resilient to future lockdowns, businesses will invest more in their ability to conduct business through the internet.
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People’s ability to work from home is also improving thanks to digital technology, yet the suitability of remote work varies substantially across and within countries, depending on the types of professions and tasks to be completed, as well as digital capability. Remote-work-friendly employment is more common in wealthy countries, among people with higher education levels, and in salaried full-time jobs. Women and young people are much less likely to work from home. In many developing countries, digital infrastructure is sparse or of poor quality.
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