Future of work is about people, not tech

The future of work—with advanced technologies and new working arrangements—is here and is changing economic opportunities and employment relationships. However, according to the 2021 APEC Economic Policy Report, certain economic structures, laws and institutions across APEC remain products of the past. 

The report highlighted four mega drivers of the future of work. These are technological change, climate change, globalization and demographic change. It also pointed out how these drivers promote innovation and advance development, although each comes at a cost.  

Unresolved issues such as environmental degradation and climate change resulting from the rise of industrialization, growing inequality and structural unemployment due to globalization, as well as the ageing population, are some of the remaining challenges that policymakers need to address.

On top of this, COVID-19 sent the world into isolation, left policymakers with many lessons to learn, and propelled people and businesses to adapt and accelerate digital technology adoption. Some managed to keep their jobs and businesses afloat but many had to face closure and unemployment, highlighting the need to make people the center of future-of-work policy.

“The future of work is not about technology, but about people,” said Dr James Ding, Chair of the APEC Economic Committee, the group that produced the report alongside the APEC Policy Support Unit. 

“Even as we get excited about the latest technology and advancements in artificial intelligence, discussions about the future of work should still be about the well-being of people and society in an increasingly digitalized economy.”

“There is an urgent need to address the real social and economic impacts that will bring change,” Dr Ding added. “We have to look at ensuring our economic security with structural reform and targeted policies, upskilling and reskilling the workforce, updating the relevant laws and regulations as well as strengthening our cross-border cooperation.”

The report, among others, recommends APEC member economies focus on improving their systems by expanding the scope and coverage of unemployment benefit programs to cover the most vulnerable, as well as include better health coverage in their social protection policies.

Policies that promote skills building are deemed crucial to mitigating the skills gap and strengthening the resilience of the workforce, and this can be supported by building better skills-forecasting systems, upskilling and reskilling workers, making targeted investments in education and promoting lifelong learning to keep up with the changing labor market.

Improving employment protection legislation is another policy lever to effectively react to changing market conditions. The report suggests policymakers upgrade the scope and coverage of employment protection laws by including non-standard employment, such as those who work in the informal sector, workers in temporary contracts and gig-economy workers.

“International cooperation is needed more than ever as we embrace the future of work and APEC needs to continue to be the forum where innovative approaches to addressing the challenges are developed, policies are discussed and consensus for implementation is achieved,” Dr Ding concluded.

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