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Future of work

Jan 26,2021 - Last updated at Jan 26,2021

It was once said that “we are called to be architects of the future, not its victims”, and you may agree.

Pre-COVID 19, the future of work was a matter of debate and, perhaps, concern to many policy makers, business leaders, educators, students and parents. Some thought that technological revolution would eliminate jobs by having systems/machines replace human beings. And the pace of disruption might be so fast, that academia will not be able to timely catch-up and reinvent itself to accommodate the jobs of the future. Others were more optimistic, and viewed it as collaborative efforts between public, private (and educational) sectors: an opportunity to upskill, reskill and generate a more resilient workforce that would be more qualified, in-demand and as a result better compensated. 

Additionally, many of us had a predefined image of the workplace that is both place and time bound. Limiting the possibility of women, people with disabilities, remotely located youth from joining the workforce. For example, in 2019 the percentage of women in the workplace was 39 per cent of the labour force, per the World Bank. In a country like Jordan, the percentage is merely 15 per cent. The International Labour Organisation expects that two thirds of people with disabilities within the working age are unemployed, and it is even worse for women with disabilities. 

During 2020, the health crisis caught us by surprise, and tested nations, sectors and entities resilience. Work from home, once thought of as ineffective, became the norm for many, and economies around the world kept running despite lockdowns. On one hand, the pandemic revealed the ability to adapt rapidly and helped change stereotypes regarding work confinement to offices; breaking glass barriers. Yet, on the other hand, it exposed inequalities and the vulnerability of some workers, especially the less skilled, who have been subject to dismissal on the back of less favourable economic conditions, eroding years of work in creating livelihood opportunities.

There is no doubt that the health crisis boosted innovation, and acted as a catalyst for further digitisation and speedy adoption of technologies. The educational system was no exception, though it used to be considered as one of the less disrupted sectors given its uniqueness. Recent rapid technological investments in education, aka “Edtech”, have made remote learning and e-learning possible. Post COVID-19, this is expected to trigger further initiatives to resolve the pressing issues in the sector related to limited resources available to less privileged students in remote locations, refugee camps, etc, while revamping curriculums to cater for what is next.

Leaders in the public and private sectors have good examples and experiences to help draft laws, policies and strategies of the future of work that would “leave no one behind”. Ranging between full office-presence to 100 per cent work-from-home arrangements, with some hybrid structures in between. The opportunity to support new business areas offering seamless services that extend beyond geographies and boundaries, creating jobs for aspiring talent. Also, more than ever, individuals and systems need to adopt a culture of “learning to learn” — the cornerstone to continuously grow and reinvent oneself, and most importantly to stay relevant. 

With every crisis, there is a silver lining; is it a glimpse into the future and an opportunity to embrace change early? only time will tell.

 

Nour Jarrar is the CEO of Citibank Jordan

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