We must harness technology to tackle unemployment

Artificial intelligence and data-driven technologies will spy opportunities for employment

With jobseekers facing uncertainty from a potential recession and increased automation, Ksenia Zheltoukhova argues that we must harness – rather than fear – technology in boosting employment.

The coronavirus crisis has thrust the UK’s job market into uncertainty, with a recent survey by Adzuna showing that almost half of workers fear that their jobs are under immediate threat.

But even without the implications of coronavirus, the world of work is changing at a rapid pace. Trends such as automation, globalisation and the rise of the green economy are all having a big impact on the jobs available, and the skills employers require.

Automation will transform a wide range of roles in sectors including retail, manufacturing, construction, transport and healthcare – removing many of the tasks currently carried out by people.

A report by McKinsey earlier this month predicts that 22% of workforce activities across the EU could be automated by 2030, with 50 million roles at risk over the next decade.

Although exact estimates vary, it’s clear that many people will need to adapt to a changing landscape, and that more needs to be done to equip people with the right skills and tools to thrive in a challenging future of work.

Raising awareness

We need to ensure that people have awareness of what jobs will be available in the future and learn the skills to secure them.

Existing services and sources of information are rarely accessed by the people who need them most. For example, workers whose jobs are at high risk of automation have a 21% lower participation rate in skills training than those in low-risk jobs, according to the Centre for Social Justice.

People need flexible and accessible ways to gain skills, and to have the ability and confidence to make changes in their careers.

Technology can play a vital part in this, making advice and guidance about jobs more accessible, and helping with our understanding of the job market. Rather than seeing technology as a threat to employment, we need to harness its potential.

For example, data driven technologies can gather information from job ads to share insights into jobs that are growing and the skills required, to help people explore careers which they might not have otherwise considered.

Barriers to learning – such as lack of motivation or access, and time and money to learn – can in part be tackled through technology, with smartphones making training and careers advice more targeted and relevant, to help reach the people who need it most.

Artificial intelligence can also help by analysing labour market information to provide the most up to date predictions on skills demands.

Reducing inequality

Nesta’s vision is for information about skills and careers to be open and empowering for workers. We want technology to be harnessed to reduce, not drive, inequalities in access to jobs.

Barriers to learning can in part be tackled through technology, with smartphones making training and careers advice more targeted and relevant, to help reach the people who need it most.”

To help achieve this, Nesta, Nesta Challenges and the Department for Education are currently funding a variety of tech innovations through our CareerTech Challenge – which has identified 31 promising ideas to help equip adults across England with the tools and skills to navigate a rapidly changing world of work.

The innovations range from helping video gamers to acquire new transferable employment skills through the video games they enjoy, and providing online peer support for mothers looking for flexible careers, to an app that analyses the language used in job adverts, aligning it with the language that people searching for roles are likely to be using about themselves.

We are providing expert support and mentoring to help the innovators refine their solutions in the coming months, so that people can start benefiting from the ideas as soon as Autumn 2020.

The coronavirus crisis has made an already opaque labour market even more unpredictable.

Used in the right way, technology can empower workers to understand how their unique skills and experiences fit into this complex picture, and find learning opportunities which meet their individual needs and circumstances.

It is more important than ever that we give people the tools they need to plan their path to more secure employment.

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