I believe that we can learn from the mistakes that were made during the previous phase of automation that hit the extractive and volume manufacturing industries in the 1970s and 80s. That phase of automation was handled badly in a number of countries, especially those that had little workers’ protection. As people were displaced from their roles, many areas effectively ended up as ghost towns because we relied too heavily on the mobility of individuals, and their willingness to move for new jobs, to offset the fact that the core industries in the town now required fewer workers. The Fourth Industrial Revolution that we are going through now is far more transformational than anything we have gone through before.
It is shaking up just about every industry and sector you can think of. But displaced people won’t have the option of moving to find work because the work may not be there for them unless they have the skills to do it.
Is collaboration the new innovation?
It is clear that businesses, entrepreneurs
governments must collaborate to create opportunities for everyone, regardless of their age, gender or background, to thrive in the digital economy. That means liaising with schools and universities to produce school leavers and graduates who are equipped with sought-after skills, retraining people who are
or long-term unemployed and using technology to support people to work later in life – something that will be key to prosperity in an aging society.
Addressing the challenge of digital inclusion will require huge commitment, so there is a great temptation to make this someone else’s problem. And, what will happen if we, as business leaders, refuse to take up the baton? For one, businesses will miss out on growth, because fewer people will have money to spend on goods and services. We can also expect higher taxes to cover a rising social security bill. There is also a very real risk of popular unrest, which could result in an anti-business political environment and even a breakdown in law and order. Elements of the former are already evident today.
Going back to the analogy I made at the start, between the adoption of digital technology and the spread of piped water and electricity, history makes it clear that equitable progress cannot be taken as a given. Even in the more developed markets, there are huge gulfs in the living standards between rich and poor today. So it is imperative that we are proactive about driving digital inclusion and building a society where everyone can benefit from the transformative power of technology. If we solve this, certainly we can expect to see more inclusive growth.
Learn more about EY at WEF 2018.