As the world accelerates into a digital and information-based economy, our relation to employment is being turned on its head. New super technologies as artificial intelligence challenge both the demand and supply of skills. Digital platforms and communities, independent from physical locations, enable global job-matching and births a new understanding of what defines an organization, an employer, and an employee. Adding last year to the mix, these trends have only multiplied. In just a year, we have seen mass upskilling of digital capabilities, whether we wanted to or not. And the capital that last summer rushed via the stock market to the hands of the tech industry is boosting the very technologies like 5G, AI or robotics, we for so long have anticipated. Meanwhile, the youth continue the hunt for meaning and purpose beyond the traditional realm of the labor market. With this, it seems that work as we know it is fully transforming.
For forcibly displaced, employment is still seen as one of the most important must wins for successful integration in host countries. For European host countries, estimates are that 35% of forcibly displaced are unemployed even after 20 years on European ground. In low-income countries, where UNHCR estimates that 85% of all forcibly displaced reside, integration through employment is equally hard, if not harder. Not unlike in high income countries, perceived competition for local jobs, limited access to working permits, poor translation of education and skills are just some of the many barriers that forcibly displaced face in their hunt for employment outside of their origin countries. Unique about the digital workforce amongst forcibly displaced is also the extreme diversity of professional profiles – ranging from highly educated engineers to unfinished school degrees – underlining the need for surgically precise job-matching platforms.
Here and more, digital holds numerous opportunities but also presents new challenges. Who is still offline and drifting away from the intensified digital game? How about digital literacy? And how does digital play vis-à-vis existing divides on the labor market across e.g. gender and generation?
In the following future we unfold what the economy and job market look like 'online'. We explore both trends in high and low income countries, and we ask of you to consider:
What new opportunities and risks arise for our beneficiaries and our sector at the intersection of 'digital' and 'employment'?
Below, you find three selected accelerators, most prominently influencing the development of digital employment.
hop to another future
Digital Youth seeking purpose into uncertainty
Millennials who dominate the current global workforce are known to be the most connected people online. Zooming into the demographics of forcibly displaced, we find the majority being children below the age of 18 years (38-43%). The youth, Millenials and Zoomers combined, is thus the main group of interest amongst forcibly displaced as we explore the future digital workforce.
When it comes to their literacy in digital, forcibly displaced Millennials and Zoomers are alike. In places like Lebanon and Jordan, research by the NGO Talent Beyond Boundaries found IT skills as the most prevalent skill in these generations. But we also see the digital divide manifesting within youth across geographies - with 346 million young people still not connected, the majority in Africa. Considering who else is still offline, there remains a significant gender gap in mobile use amongst forcibly displaced and a lack of basic digital skills of 37% of the general global workforce.
Turning to values, these generations (at least globally) are the most purpose- driven generation seen thus far with 9 in 10 willing to take a pay cut to work in a company prioritizing purpose over profit. But purpose is not always found online. Expanding research on youth confirms the positive correlation between depression and time spent on social media time. Today 30% of Millennials experience loneliness. Combined with higher evident uncertainty, forcibly displaced youth are at even greater risk of mental health issues which negatively influence the acquisition of new skills such as a domestic language, or social contact overall - making integration into local labor markets more difficult.
Looking into the future, we see a workforce that is more digitally literate than any before. One seeking purpose, but one finding uncertainty and when going online – may in fact experience loneliness. In this future, we ask how digital networks can be built social by design? How can they secure community building conducive for healthy employment? What defines safe digital cultures for a youth seeking purpose in uncertainty?
Hyperautomation welcomes the Centaurs
It shouldn’t come as a surprise; the workplace is transformed and transmuted daily by hyperautomation – the applied combination of advanced digital technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics. According to the World Economic Forum, hyperautomation is set to create 150 million new technology jobs in the next five years with a focus on e-commerce, healthcare and digital content. Other jobs will radically transform or disappear. By 2024, we will find a manager that performs tasks demanding mainly creativity and social skills as 69% of all management activities may be fully automated.
In this future, creativity and empathy are the new sought-after competencies but they are not enough to have amongst humans. The dream team of the future, will consist of both humans and machines and our empathy it seems, will have to expand beyond organic bodies. To only mention a few, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence is investing heaps into collaborative Artificial Intelligence (AI) building common sense into machine systems. Thus, human-machine collaboration and the way towards so-called Centaurs, seems to be paved. Here, the human plays the intuition and empathy card while the AI unleashes things like brute calculation and pattern recognition power. Meanwhile, we see a bloom of new tools for collaborating with digital. Interfaces such as augmented reality, wearables or gesture control are already applied in the workspace. More advanced tools that use nano-computers to enhance human capabilities are manifesting in the cyborg community: Neil Harbisson - the world’s first legally recognised cyborg - can hear colour, and Moon Ribas, can feel every earthquake taking place on the planet.
Surely, the future digital workplace will require our capabilities to transform. Massive (& probably continuous) upskilling will be the only way to keep up with a hyperautomated workplace. In this future, what does this upskilling look like for forcibly displaced?
Digital ties on all levels
Rapid network evolutions and the current Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped the way employee and employer come together. As tech companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Spotify join the growing movement of remote work, the physical office is becoming a thing of the past. Meanwhile, technological breakthroughs like space-based internet enable even the most remote places in the world to draw on talent - a revolution and democratization of the labor market according to LinkedIn’s "Jobs on the Rise in 2021" report. For forcibly displaced remote work presents numerous opportunities to work legally without necessitating tedious filings for work permits.
Digital is also impacting the forms of jobs matched. Uber or Airbnb manifested the rules (both good and bad) of the gig economy - on-demand small gigs or tasks for independent contractors - not irrelevant for forcibly displaced. Similarly, Linkedin, Refugee Talent, JustArrived and Amazon Mechanical Turk match employees with micro and local jobs. And ICT companies – ever-growing in the digital era – often hire highly skilled forcibly displaced paid on a stipend basis.
But perhaps of most excitement to our group of concern, is how the digital space offers a pool of opportunities to upskill and reskill. Kiron Open Education or Coursera for Refugees target forcibly displaced specifically by offering on-demand, free courses and degrees. Coursera for Refugees alone reaches 11.000 learners in 119 countries. Worth considering seems the importance of social interactions and face-to-face tuition during a virtual learning experience. Especially for forcibly displaced these social elements instill a sense of purpose and a possibility to participate in society.
Digital platforms tie employee and employer neatly together on multiple levels. However, will they be able to provide the most important skills and tools for forcibly displaced such as cultural competencies, creativity and soft skills? And how about access to social security nets or jobs secured for the long term as forcibly displaced find employment in microtasks or in the remote realm?
In this future, you have read how the purpose-driven digital youth meets a hyperautomated workplace through increasingly flexible and physically independent online formats. These three accelerators shed light on the potential to lower entry barriers and local work restrictions especially for forcibly displaced.
The signals show examples of new technologies that are currently emerging, how the human interacts with new interfaces and applications of simple solutions within and outside of the humanitarian sector.
The digital has allowed millions of individuals to work in new and, often, empowering ways but holds a range of new challenges for forcibly displaced. To come back to where we started this future, we challenge you to ask yourself again:
What new opportunities and risks arise for displacement affected and the humanitarian sector at the intersection of 'digital' and 'employment'?
Who is drifting away from the intensified digital game of employment?
What type of upskilling can boost the digital employment opportunities of people affected by displacement? In what format should it be provided?
How will the power relation between employee and employer change and how will this manifest for forcibly displaced?
What potential risks does the strong correlation between mental health, digital and uncertainty hold for the digital youth?
These questions and more, we will explore together on our journey forward!
Below, you find signals from the edge as well as from within the humanitarian sector. Click the signals to explore them further and use the arrows to navigate between them. Here, we encourage you to navigate this section with a “what if” mindset
- and note down any ideas and thoughts that may arise.