Breaking through the breakdowns: Experts discuss what the future of work holds for us at AUC Business Forum

Roundtable II AUC Forum 2021

The digital transformation driven by artificial intelligence coupled with the disruption caused by COVID-19 has resulted in major global challenges and trends affecting the present and future labor market. As the current circumstances urge individuals to shift to new work modes, individuals need to upskill themselves to cope with the continuous changes continuously. These were the main focal points at the second roundtable of the 2021 Business Forum titled “Future of Work,” moderated by Ghada Howaidy, associate dean for executive education and external relations at the AUC School of Business.

The roundtable brought together local and international experts who shared their insights on major global trends and challenges that affect the workforce's future. The key issues addressed in this discussion covered three main aspects: individuals, organizations, and countries. For individuals, the discussion covered the issues of skilling, reskilling and upskilling. For organizations, the focus was on forecasting future needs and retaining the relevant talent. For countries, the discussion highlighted policy issues related to the digitization of employment and social justice.

Upskilling and education

In this regard, Pedro Brinca, assistant professor of economics at Nova School of Business and Economics, shed light on the obstacles that might stand in the way of upskilling. “There are many constraints that prevent workers from investing in their own upskilling such as commitment, monetary and eloquence constraints. Also, educational institutions take a lot of time to update their content to be relevant to the current market.”

To fuel upskilling and ensure consistency, “governments need to invest in updating workers’ skills constantly,” continued Brinca.

Srinivas Reddy, chief of skills and employability at the International Labour Organization (ILO), emphasized the importance of job transitioning and continuous education in this process. “One job for life is not relevant for many people. People have to make multiple job transitions. Also, people need to see how relevant post-graduate and continuing education will be in their future careers,” said Reddy.

These current challenges urge academic institutions to induce some changes to adapt to the digital transformation. Ayman Ismail, Abdul Latif Jameel, endowed chair of entrepreneurship, associate professor, and the founding director of the AUC Venture Lab, emphasized this point by stating that “A big part of the preparation of the change is happening at universities. We can't graduate students that aren't digitally savvy. However, it is not enough to learn skills that machines can replace. Cognitive skills are essential.”

The other side of technological disruption

Although the disruption of the labor market caused by technological progress has been ongoing for the past two decades, it was accelerated by recent circumstances. Experts commented on the effects of such changes on the work conditions.

Abla Abdel Latif, executive director and director of research at the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies, said that while “there are jobs that are being lost, others are being created. The availability of data is making it important to know more about our workers and what their talents are.”

“The care economy will be disrupted in many ways. The retail and wholesale sector will be changed: sales jobs will be lost, new e-commerce jobs will be created,” explained Ismail.

Adding to that, Reddy mentioned some problems that might occur due to the digital transformation. “The future of work is not all digital. People need to embrace the opportunities coming with the new technologies. However, the new technologies can also increase the digital divide and inequalities. The time is right now to bridge the gap.”

Policy changes needed for more inclusion

The effect of digital transformation on work conditions is notably relevant to Egypt today, particularly for inclusion and especially for women. Nagla Rizk, professor of economics at AUC School of Business and founding director of A2K4D, commented on this issue, saying: “There is an opportunity for developing countries to be part of global digital platforms if we train our workforce’s skills accordingly. When resources are limited, usually women come at the end of the line. This is a case for digital resources as well. Women are using technology to start their own businesses, and we need to encourage that.”

In the discussion, some policy issues related to the impact of digital transformation on the future of work and social justice were highlighted. Abdel Latif proposed some solutions to these issues. She explained: “There are global solutions to the digital divide. The global community needs to push governments to pay attention to closing the gap. Arab countries can collaborate to improve the digital infrastructure in the region.”

Ismail also highlighted some important factors that would help the digital transition on a national level, saying that “there are three things that would ease the digital transformation: infrastructure, policy and regulation, and education and digital readiness.”

The discussion tackled some major problems, pointed at existing gaps, and most importantly, proposed some insightful solutions that would help prepare calibers for the future, improve systematic social justice, and utilize the breakdowns to fuel breakthroughs.

To watch the full session of the “Future of Work” roundtable, click here.