A week ago, I spent a day in Villeurbanne, France, in its Palais de Travail, far from the OECD’s historic headquarters in Paris. This was the first of many cross-sector conversations the OECD is organising around the world, to meet the people where they are and discuss the ideas shaping the future of work.
The OECD is used to welcoming visitors to our well-appointed headquarters in Paris’ 16th arrondissement – more than 150 000 come through our doors every year. We are used to visiting capital cities in OECD countries and beyond – Washington, London, Tokyo, Berlin, Rome, to name but a few. We are comfortable with our peers and networks, with being the experts and speaking with experts.
However, in recent years we have come to the uncomfortable realisation that we cannot fulfil our mission – to improve policies and lives – without a deep awareness of “on the ground realities”. Ones beyond our usual comfort zone, whether in “la France péripherique”, “la España vacía” or “the north of England”. This is essential for understanding the issues and identifying local initiatives and solutions.
The world of work is changing. On average in the OECD, 14% of jobs face a high risk of being automated and a further 32% transformed by automation. Why do these number matter? Who is going to be affected? Young people? Older people? The highly skilled or those without any skills at all? Those in cities or those in rural places?
In responding to these questions, and many more, we seek to keep people at the centre. Our I am the Future of Work campaign aims to shift the debate from a place of fear – that robots will replace us all, that rewarding jobs are gone for good – to a place of realism and ambition. Above all, we want to understand people’s hopes and fears for the future of work and explore what they are doing or imagining to shape a future that works for all.
In 2020, we are walking our talk, taking the campaign around the world with a series of Future of Work Roadshows, to hear how citizens, policy makers and practitioners are preparing for the future of work.
We began in Villeurbanne, a vibrant city known for its strong industrial labour tradition as well as its growing digital sector. This, along with Villeurbanne’s university campus and its 25 000 students, made the city an ideal place for our first “conversation on the go”. We listened to young people, educators, local authorities, non-profits and businesses address the issue of youth and the future of work, a pressing topic in France, where 16% of young people are neither employed, nor studying, nor in professional training.
I am still absorbing all that we heard. The rich discussion delivered a plethora of insights and ideas, including the following:
Work, purpose and causes go together, the future of work can’t be about just getting a job, any job. “People want their work to have meaning and we need to help youth see that you can to find fulfilment in it,” noted French parliamentarian Bruno Bonnell. To do so, we need to develop “a better sense of ourselves, what we want out of work and for the world of tomorrow,” suggested Virginie Thouret from Orient'Action Lyon.
Anne-Marie Comparini, President of the Lyon Metropole Development Council called for France’s strong cultural barriers between the worlds of school and business to be overcome. “Firms and education providers above all need to talk to each other,” noted Olivier Rejany of the Institut Bocuse, in order to give young people more insights into jobs at an early age.
Acknowledging and developing soft skills is crucial: Bernard Foucher, president of a social enterprise in Villeurbanne, EmerJean, is convinced that “so many technical skills are going to become obsolete because of technology, AI. This is where soft skills will matter, particularly for people currently disconnected from the world of work”. Agnès Thouvenot, Deputy Mayor of Villeurbanne, stressed that soft skills can be gained through life experience. Youth from disadvantaged backgrounds may have valuable skills – such as adaptability and perseverance – that go unacknowledged because they were acquired informally rather than through study.
Parents matter: they need to be well-informed about today’s changing world of work so that they can help their children imagine their future career paths. They must help their children dream; as Natacha, a student and volunteer with Chemins d’Avenirs, asked “how is it that some young people end up believing that they’re not capable of this or able to do that?”
We are taking these – and so much more – on board, bringing what we have heard back to the OECD to help inform our work and bringing it forward to the upcoming Roadshow stops.
Villeurbanne was but the beginning of our journey. We will be carrying that conversation forward to nourish others, in Mexico, Japan, the United States, Germany and beyond. We will gather stories, solutions and ideas to present on line and to leaders at the OECD Forum later this year, in order to inspire policy making locally, nationally and internationally.
We will be reporting back here from our next event, in Mexico City on 3 March, where the conversations will explore job quality, as well as the importance of skills and lifelong learning.
Together, we can shape a better Future of Work. Join the conversation, tell us how you will take part, either at a Roadshow near you or in this space.
Learn more about OECD data and analysis on the Future of Work here.