The Paradox of the Digital Age: Worried or Happy Employees?

Misiunea Apollo 13, lansată în aprilie 1970, s-a transformat imediat într-o luptă pentru supraviețuire.  Rezervoarele de oxigen au explodat, urmând faimoasa misiune de salvare. Lumea întreagă își ținea respirația, în timp ce de la o distanță de 200.000 de mile se căutau soluții pentru problemele tehnice. Inginerii și astronauții au lucrat împreună pentru a-și da seama cum să manevreze și să navigheze o navă spațială grav avariată, să găsească modalități inovatoare de conservare a energiei, oxigenului și apei și, în cele din urmă, să descopere cum să repornească un modul de comandă care nu fusese proiectat pentru a fi oprit în spațiu.

The 19th century began with major changes for English textile workers. The Napoleonic Wars affected trade and caused food shortages. A change in men’s fashion, from stockings to trousers, crippled England’s hosiery industry. In addition to all this, the industrial revolution brought with it a disruptive technology – the steam engine – which allowed workers to produce knitted goods about 100 times faster than they could by hand.
On a late January night in 1812, masked men stormed the door of George Ball’s textile workshop on the outskirts of Nottingham, England, destroying five knitting machines. Night raids on textile workshops in Nottingham continued in protest against manufacturers using machinery to replace labor and reduce wage costs.
It was the beginning of movements against a new economic structure imposed by the Industrial Revolution, known in history as the Luddite Revolt, after the name of the legendary weaver “Ned Ludd”, used as a pseudonym in threatening letters to factory owners and government officials. The name endures more than two centuries later, with “Luddite” now becoming a general term synonymous with “technophobe”.

The evolution of the notion of workplace between the Industrial Revolution and the digital age

The Industrial Revolution, which began in the 18th century and has continued to the present day, is considered the most profound revolution in human history due to its major impact on people’s daily lives. The acceleration of technical innovation processes has brought a series of new tools and equipment, involving subtle changes in various fields that have profoundly affected work, production and resource use. Inventions and innovations have shaped the way people work in industrial processes while creating many new industries.
Cloth production was fundamental to Britain’s economic development between 1750 and 1850, the years historians commonly use to frame the Industrial Revolution. During this period, the organization of cotton production shifted from small-scale production at home, with family labor, to mechanized industry in factories. The productivity boom began with a few human-operated technical devices, such as the loom, and steam power led to specialized equipment.
The Industrial Revolution brought profound and lasting transformations, not only in business and the economy, but also in the basic structures of society. Before industrialization, when the most significant economic activities in most European countries were agriculture and crafts, social structures remained essentially as they had been in the Middle Ages. The advent of industrial development renewed patterns of human settlement, work and family life.
The nature of work in the new urban industries had a significant social impact. Before the Industrial Revolution, work was governed by craft and the limited resources available. With the advent of factory-based industry, the steam engine and other machinery set a new, faster pace of work, along with the improvement of almost inhuman working conditions. An often overlooked consequence of the new working conditions affects the most basic social unit: the family. The growth of factory production and industrial cities meant a separation of home from work for most workers. At the same time, the increase in productivity led to the creation of a new social class, with a better material condition, generating at the same time fears and the need to create social and community services.
There is a broad consensus among professionals that innovation is the main driver of productivity, economic growth and job creation. The extent to which this holds true for innovations involving digitization remains a hotly debated topic. The digitization process, now in full swing, brings with it the creation, transformation and disappearance of jobs and even professions.
Over the past two decades, digital technologies have fostered the adoption of remote working in many organizations. Although remote working was a known practice before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not widely used. A study published in 2020 by the International Association of Applied Psychology found that, before COVID-19, only 2.9% of the total US workforce and about 2% of the European workforce were engaged in remote work.
The pandemic has suddenly disrupted normal work routines and accelerated previously existing trends of work migrating to online or virtual environments. The pandemic context has accelerated the transition from traditional “office” work to remote work, and the development of digital technologies has facilitated this rapid transition. Thus, after centuries when employees left their families and homes every working day to go to work, today they are in a position to return to work from home, where the family is often present. Just like two centuries ago, this change, in reverse this time, created fears and the need to create other types of social and community services.

Contradictory reactions generated by Artificial Intelligence

Some specialists argue that most of the tasks that are at risk of automation are those performed by low- and medium-skilled employees, while most of the new tasks that arise from the adoption of digital technologies complement the high-skilled workforce . The tasks made obsolete by digital technologies are usually of a different type than the tasks created, and different types of digital technologies can have heterogeneous effects on skill requirements. Increased investment in digitization is associated with increased employment of highly skilled workers, generated almost entirely by firms using machine-based digital technologies such as robots or 3D printing.
In March 2023, Goldman Sachs published a report showing that artificial intelligence (AI) could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs. Last year, PwC’s annual global workforce survey found that almost a third of respondents were worried about the prospect of their role being replaced by technology within three years.
There are specialists, however, who argue that the danger of digital technologies for people is far from the war between man and robot in sci-fi movies. But the adoption of major fear-mongering, uncritical AI in narrow contexts means the gradual erosion of some of the most important human skills. Algorithms are already undermining people’s ability to judge, enjoy chance encounters, and hone critical thinking.
As headlines about job-stealing robots have proliferated and as generative AI tools have rapidly become more accessible, professionals in various fields are beginning to feel anxious about their future and the relevance of their skills to the marketplace in the following years.
Times have changed and a revolt like that of the Luddites is history. However, we are already seeing protest movements. How generative AI can be used to replace labor is a crucial point today for Hollywood actors, who joined the screenwriters’ strike on July 14, 2023. Among the union’s demands are explicit contractual clauses to regulate the use of artificial intelligence to protect actors and screenwriters.
PwC’s Scott Likens, who specializes in understanding issues of trust and technology, has a different view, shared by those aware of how digital technologies bring wellbeing. “Technological advances have shown us that, yes, technology has the potential to automate or streamline work processes. However, with the right skill set, individuals are often able to progress,” he says. “To feel less anxious about the rapid adoption of AI, employees need to orient themselves towards the technology. Education and training [are] key for employees to learn about AI and what it can do for their particular role, as well as help them develop new skills. Rather than shying away from AI, employees should plan to embrace it and educate themselves.”
Stefanie Coleman, head of personal advisory services at EY, also argues that “people will always have a role to play in business, doing the important work that robots can’t do. This type of work usually requires innate human qualities such as relationship building, creativity and emotional intelligence. Recognizing the unique value of humans in the workforce, compared to machines, is an important step in navigating the fears surrounding this topic.”

Green eDIH offers a solution

Emma Parry, professor of human resource management and head of the Changing World of Work group at Cranfield School of Management, UK, saw Gen Z’s openness to new technologies as an advantage that can counterbalance the fact that they start their career at a difficult time, starting work amid the global pandemic. In her view, “with AI, people tend to fall into a dystopian or utopian perspective, and younger people normally fall into the latter. Although there is still no quality research on this, anecdotally, young people are accepting and more willing to adopt AI in their daily lives and in the workplace.”
This knowledge can help Gen Z contribute to business in ways their less AI-fluent peers cannot, making younger employees particularly valuable to their employers. However, it is important to recognize that fluency in a skill will not necessarily erase some of the professional barriers these young people must overcome, with one of the challenges of entering the remote workforce being disconnection from older peers. experience. As employers seek well-rounded employees and technical skills are only part of the job description, skills such as communication, teamwork, problem solving and adaptability continue to be highly valued.
Organizations like Green eDIH have the role of acting as a bridge between companies looking for employees with personal and professional skills and universities that have the role of arming graduates with the skills required by employers. We have created the Greentech Academy Digital Platform, designed to facilitate knowledge sharing, skill development and networking opportunities within the Greentech industry. Green eDIH’s
partners include some of the most important universities in training tomorrow’s employees: the Polytechnic University of Bucharest, the University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine and the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest. Together, we started preparing meetings between students, teachers and professionals from companies, which will contribute to educating today’s students in the spirit of the professions of the future. The Greentech Academy Digital Platform thus catalyzes learning, collaboration and innovation, giving young people the advantages they need for a career in an ever-evolving professional context.

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