Reshaping the Future of Work

29 July 2020

Lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic

Blog by: Dr. Ilham Mansour Al-Dakheel

I recently had the honor of joining Chatham House, an international think tank, to discuss how COVID-19 is reshaping the future of work. I was joined by other esteemed panelists including Sir Christopher Pissarides, Nobel Laureate; Regius Professor of Economics at LSE, and Jennie Sparandara, Head of Workforce Initiatives, Global Philanthropy at JP Morgan Chase. We reflected with government officials, private-sector executives, academic leaders and others on what lessons can be taken from the unexpected and rapid changes that have been taking place amidst COVID-19 and how they can be applied as restrictions begin to lift. As we work our way through this crisis and into a phase of revival, we must learn from the day-to-day experiences of employees to ensure training, re-skilling and workforce transition efforts are at the center of our return-to-work strategy.

The B20 Saudi Arabia’s Future of Work & Education Taskforce, comprised of over 100 different members from around the world, has been working diligently on recommendations to respond to the pandemic’s impact on the world of work. Based on the lessons we have learned in communication with business leaders around the world, our recommendations will work to ensure business continuity while maintaining employee well-being, and initiate global economic recovery, supporting society at large.

We look at our recommendations through three lenses: what can be done immediately to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, what can be done in the intermediate to ensure a swift and safe return to work, and what can be done in the long-term to revive the economy and build a more resilient and inclusive workforce to absorb future shocks.

At its peak, full or partial lockdown measures affected almost 2.7 billion workers, representing 81% of the world’s workforce. (1) However, only 59% of the global population has access to the tools needed to work from home or attend school online. This massive disruption has made organizations realize the benefits as well as the challenges of digital technologies in the workplace and classroom, accelerating the transition from traditional work and education. This is a chance to think inclusively as we design programs and initiatives to prepare workers for that revival and ensure we take into account those who have traditionally been left behind in digital transformation, such as women and developing countries, a long-term challenge for global business. For instance, worldwide, some 327 million fewer women than men have a smartphone and access to mobile internet (2) and men are four times more likely than women to be ICT (Information and Communication Technology) specialists.(3)

The reasons behind these gaps are many, including lack of education, inherent biases and socioeconomic norms, but acting now to reverse these trends will be crucial. Working together to bridge this divide is the only way to ensure disadvantaged groups are not left behind in the workforce of the future and that we continue to see inclusive growth.

Such a strategy demands collaboration among government, business and civil society to anticipate the needs of the future. From re-skilling and up-skilling to investments in digitalization, we must identify mechanisms to adapt the workforce towards those needs, such as training, lifelong learning systems and job transition support. A truly resilient and sustainable approach necessitates setting up a system that sets people up for success from the very beginning – we must upgrade our education systems to ensure the pipeline of future workers is aligned to future labor and skill demands.

COVID-19 has created an unprecedented environment for professional and educational organizations, but in the aftermath of this crisis, great strides can be made to improve our current systems to drive the future of work and education. Government and the global business community must partner to address each of these dimensions, protect workers and identify new sources of global economic growth through new opportunities for women as the economy shifts to accommodate new ways of working.

Dr. Ilham Mansour Al-Dakheel, Future of Work & Education taskforce Chair

Dr. Ilham Mansour Al-Dakheel is Chair of the Future of Work & Education Taskforce at B20 Saudi Arabia & CEO of Dur Alkuttab, an educational company established in 2016, following a strategic alliance between the Higher Education Fund of the Ministry of Education and Mulkia Investment Company.

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