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How is the Digital Revolution Changing the World of Work?

Digital Revolution

Have you ever thought that you spend more time with your colleagues than with your family? You don’t need to be workaholic to think it: that’s the reality that every person with a job faces every day. But the importance of work is not just a matter of time:

work is intrinsic to human development Click to Tweet

writes Selim Jahan, director and lead author of The Human Development Report 2015.
The impact of globalization and the digital revolution on work

According to the study by the United Nations, work is changing. The main drivers of change are globalization and the digital revolution.

On the one hand, globalization has fostered global interdependence, having impact on trades, investment, growth, job creation and destruction. In particular, between 2005 and 2014 trade in goods and services almost doubled, reaching nearly $24 trillion in 2014.
On the other hand, the digital revolution has a wide impact on the world of work, thanks to some innovation so powerful to disrupt their sectors. Think about advanced robotics, web, cloud computing, 3D printing, machine learning.

Given this context, globalization is accelerating and workers in all sectors are need more education, training, more flexible and more technologically savvy, in order to avoid being displaced by the digital revolution.

Digital revolution: opportunity or threat?
According to Autor and Dorn, the jobs more at risk are those of low-skill workers performing routine tasks. Frey and Osborne investigate the other side of the coin: the bottlenecks to jobs computerisation:

  1. perception, as people perform better than robots within an unstructured work environment;
  2. manipulation, since robots are not able to deal with irregular objects;
  3. creative intelligence, because combining ideas requires a rich store of knowledge;
  4. social intelligence, that is the ability to recognise human emotions and to respond cleverly to such inputs.

The digital revolution is not only a threat for traditional job: it is also an opportunity for new forms of collaboration, sharing and innovation that will shift work towards a more social experience. The new frontiers of work are represented by: new producers (e.g. the “prosumers” of Wikipedia, that both produce and read information), new business services provided from home by freelancers (e.g. photographers, journalists), sharing economy (the most famous companies are Airbnb and Uber), flexible workers, virtual volunteerism (where individuals can work together virtually across borders and time zones).

The impact of digitalization on human development

The digital revolution has a mixed impact on human development.

On the upside, it opened the door to more flexibility and creativity and to new frontiers of work.

On the downside, workers with routine skills have seen their jobs vanished and constant connectivity over mobile devices blurs the distinction between working hours and free-time. Finally, both globalization and digitalization have created inequality, since the shares of high-skilled workers and capital are going up, at the expense of other people. We cannot expect that markets will fix this problem. That is the reason why public policies and actions are needed to guide digitalization and globalization in the direction of human development.

About the author


Economics and business blogger, specialized in labor issues. She aims at making business and economics accessible to everyone with web and clarity.