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ICTs and employment: a debate with lights and shadows

The influence of ICTs in terms of employment is, perhaps, one of the most relevant ones as it has human face.

A common and shared vision among experts underlines that ICTs and the digital economy are spreading great economic opportunities all over the world, particularly in developing economies, but at the same time, their net impact in jobs hasn’t been so positive so far.

Some voices tend to highlight the positive aspects of the digital economy. In this side of the balance we can find those who claim that opportunities created by the digital ecosystem in terms of job creation easily overcome the destruction of “classic” jobs caused by the extensive use of new ICT applications and services. These voices underline that the open Internet is an enabler for job creation and entrepreneurship. Places as Silicon Valley are good examples of this. Moocs, crow funding, online mentoring, or cloud computing are without a doubt new opportunities born in the light of the economy and society digitalization. The Internet offers to entrepreneurs development opportunities that, just some years ago, where only available for those living in just a few well-known innovation hubs around the globe. Nowadays, high speed networks offer a virtual and much easier connection between universities, venture capital, mentors, programmers and freelancers, and innovators, extending the opportunities once being confined in some very concrete geographical areas of the world, to anyone connected to the Internet. From the developing world point of view, one has just to think about the thousands of new employments created in the fields of software development or on-line customer service to see a clear sign of GDP creation thanks to the Internet and high speed networks.

On the negative side, no one could deny that entire industries have disappeared or, at least, have been set aside during the last years due to the Internet. Just one has to think about the analogical photography, cinemas, travel agencies, etc. The ICT revolution first hit the blue collards jobs, then the pink ones and now is affecting also the white collards, especially in the developed world. Another negative effect we are observing is an increasing concentration of wealth in hands of just a small number of new digital economy winners. Coming back to the analogic/digital photography example, one can perfectly understand what we are talking about here.

There exist a real threat of creation of global monopolies thanks to the Internet (the so called “The winner takes it all effect”), with much more economic power than the aggregated GDP of a large number of countries. To finish up with this rather apocalyptic scenario, we must add the global dimension inherent to the Internet, which in this case is provoking not only the delocalization of wealth and income, but perhaps more dangerous for the stability of the national economic systems, the delocalization of taxes.

All in all, ICTs are transforming the world of work, creating new job opportunities while destroying others but it is a fact that they are making labor markets more innovative, and global. We are convinced we can win the battle of ICT-related jobs worldwide but, for this to happen, public and private sectors should work together and get right in the design and implementation of policies to adapt the economic and labor systems to the new realities.

To maximize the positive impact of ICTs on employment we should correctly shake the cocktail country by country of human capital systems (development of local talent and ICT skills), infrastructure systems (ubiquitous connectivity, access to electricity and transport; innovation), social systems (social safety nets), financial systems (access to finance to support innovation and entrepreneurship) and regulatory systems (labor market flexibility, level-playing field across the digital value chain, enabling environment for the development of employment opportunities while protecting the rights of workers).

Therefore, preserving an open Internet where the free flow of information allows the exchange of ideas and innovation should be a common goal as it enables a virtuous economic circle where quality jobs can be created and where alternative uses of the increasing free time we should have thanks to the ICTs use, can serve as new employment sources.

Let’s allow new policies to shape the Digital Economy for the benefit of all human beings!