Digitalization will create 600.000 new jobs. Who will fill them in?

People in the street

Is technology as detrimental to our overal labor as some people claim? Far from it. Technology giant Amazon phrases it as followed: “It is not technology as such that makes jobs disappear. On the contrary: technology enables us to do more, to achieve things we couldn’t achieve before. If jobs disappear, it is due to companies’ short-term decisions to deploy technology merely to cut costs and grow profits.” Digitalization can indeed be a threat to our current labor market, but most of all it can create unprecedented opportunities. If we want to seize these opportunities, we need to act right now.

In its Be the Change report, Agoria has quantified in detail what will happen if we don’t act soon: over 584.000 open vacancies in Belgium by 2030, especially in healthcare, IT and education, for which we can’t find the right talent. On the other hand, we may end up with a working population that is unsuitable for the new economy. For each job that becomes obsolete because of the digitalized economy, 3,7 new jobs are created. If we can capitalize on this potential by filling in these newly created vacancies with the right talent, the Belgian economy will reap the many benefits. But if we can’t succeed in reschooling the unemployed and the current workforce, we may end up with job losses equivalent to a 35 billion euro GDP, according to that same Agoria report.

Education needs to be digitalized

As digital skills will become an important success factor in tomorrow’s labor market, our education system needs to be adapted accordingly. Unfortunately, I find that organizations today often have to train the newly graduated talent in order to bridge the gap caused by their lack of digital skills. Our own Generation Z survey shows that no more than 57% of the students feel that their school is preparing them adequately or excellently for their future careers. Using the right technology in schools could be a determining factor in improving this situation, and obviously Dell Technologies wants to play a leading role in this process of change. Our latest product portfolio, aimed at education, enables teachers to integrate technology and to apply new teaching and learning practices. It also stimulates students to experiment and discover.

But until we have reached the point where education has fully embraced technology, schools will continue to deliver graduates on the labor market with limited digital skills. And we haven’t even begun discussing the many employees within companies that we will need to reschool,in order for them to cope with the new, digital jobs.

Is lifelong learning the solution?

Lifelong learning has become the ultimate catchphrase when we are faced with the challenges around (the lack of) digital skills and talents. But in practice, this is not always as obvious as it seems. It’s quite challenging to find – or to be granted – the time to reschool. If you want to combine this with your family and your daily job activities, you often get confronted with the unescapable reality that there are not enough hours in our day. The government should therefore speed up its plans to support lifelong learning. But companies should also assume their responsibility, for instance by better leveraging all available competencies from their employees. Not just the digital skills, but also ‘soft’ competencies, such as critical thinking, a problem-solving mindset, communication skills, agility, creativity and a sense of responsibility.

Companies that truly want to develop a ‘lifelong learning’ strategy, in order to fully develop the existing talent and to teach new skills, need a strong ‘blended learning’. Here too, technology can make a difference. The possibilities created by online and virtual learning (using AI and gaming) ‘on the job’, as a complement to the conventional classical learning environment, provide employees with lots of flexibility in terms of when and where they want to plan their learning sessions.

Technology can also play a different role in the fight against the impending talent shortage. If we deploy technology optimally to maximize the employees’ productivity, we may be able to slow down the need for extra jobs. According to Be the Change, a major increase in productivity through automation and digitalization (e.g. by implementing digital assistants in some healthcare processes), we could avoid the need for about 208.000 extra jobs by 2030.

In the ongoing ‘war for talent’, each organization will have to use every single available means to present itself as an attractive employer. Access to learning is one of those means, and this access can be accelerated and customized to each individual need by using the right technology. Lifelong learning is all about co-creation between education, government, companies and individuals, and will do away with the traditional learning-working-retirement trajectory. Technology is the catalyst in this story: it will enable to be more productive than ever and to accelerate the introduction of lifelong learning in the workplace.

Opinion by Pascale Van Damme, Vice President and General Manager at Dell Technologies Belux and chairman of the Agoria ICT Committee

About the Author: Pascale Van Damme