"Digitalisation has major consequences for social relationships in companies. Adapting to it is like recovering an aeroplane in mid-air; you must simultaneously work very quickly while being vigilant." Uwe Combüchen, director general of Ceemet (European Tech & Industry Employers), talking about Agoria's Be the change-study.
As a representative of Ceemet, Uwe Combüchen keeps a sharp eye on any changes in the labour market. Ceemet is the European employers' organisation that looks after the interests of the metal, engineering and tech industries, with a special focus on labour market policies and industrial relations. Its members are made up of national employer organisations and federations – including Agoria – that represent more than 200,000 member companies throughout Europe.
"We were one of the first to focus on digitalisation and its impact", emphasises Ceemet's boss. That's why we published a report ("Digitalisation and the world of work") in 2016 and made proposals that were discussed in the European Commission and with the European Ministers for Work, including Kris Peeters, during two meetings of the Council of Employment and Social Affairs. We recently published an updated version. Agoria's Be the change study is an excellent supplement through its objective approach, its experience-based proposals and its markedly optimistic approach."
Uwe Combüchen: "Like Agoria, we believe that robotization is a positive thing for employment. Digitalisation should never be held back out of fear that jobs would be lost. At Ceemet, employment has increased by 1.3 million people since 2013 in the companies that we represent and that are undergoing a radical digital transformation. Other cyclical elements have probably also played a role, but the automation boom has not led to a social drama, on the contrary."
He takes it even a step further: "If we properly manage digital transformation, why couldn't production activities return to Europe thanks to robotization? We don't need to fear change." This dream is shared by Ceemet's partners, he tells us.
Digitalisation already has consequences for social relationships. There's no shortage of examples. "Take the social partners for instance", says Uwe Combüchen. "The role of the trade unions is changing. They are sometimes no longer the required channel for employee demands, and other channels are developing for mobilising within companies thanks to new technologies, such as social networks."
Collective agreements are also developing. In Denmark, for example, a collective labour agreement has recently been concluded for a digital economic platform that unites the self-employed. Two different worlds are now blending.
Europe with three speeds
As regards digitalisation, it's by no means consistent within Europe. "It is clear that Northern Europe, including Belgium, is further along in digital transformation. There are already pragmatic discussions taking place there between social partners", says Uwe Combüchen. In the south, investments in technology are declining sooner and in the east, people are barely aware of just how important this change is. Europe must act quickly because the United States and China (and all of Asia in general) are progressing faster for various reasons."
This is why Ceemet has set itself a goal of reducing the differences within Europe, with several successes. For example, in Bulgaria where initiatives are being taken or at the Commission where, thanks to lobbying by the organisation, resources could be made available to train SME employees on digital technologies.
Skills, skills, skills
With an eye on the European elections, Ceemet summarises its position in its memorandum with the words 'skills, skills, skills'. "We're fighting for more education and training programmes that are adapted to technological changes and that are more attractive to young people. But we also want a different dynamic at European level. We want to take down the silos and end the fragmentation of resources to get a better overall idea of the actions. The results must also be monitored and measured. And what we need the most is a long-term vision, namely with a view to 2050."
Finally, Ceemet will continue to raise awareness among companies through the affiliated federations. "Because, in line with Agoria's Be the change message, every company and every individual must take action and take advantage of the opportunities offered by digitalisation."
Ceemet proposes actions in four areas:
- "Skills & education", or ensuring that each partner does their part, "while we've established that 80% of teachers lack sufficient digital skills"?
- "Work organisation", or ensuring that production flexibility goes hand in hand with flexibility in working hours, space ...
- "Occupational safety & health", or how to convince employees that digitalisation makes it easier for them.
- "Data and the world of work", or how to link the data revolution to balanced legislation?
Download Ceemet's "Digitalisation and the world of work" report: https://www.ceemet.org/news/digitalisation-world-work-report-0.