The Argentine Presidency of the G20 has prioritised the ‘future of work’as a central focus over the next year, signalling that major powers are coming to terms with the profound implications of enormous change on global labour markets. The emergence of new technologies has combined with other macro shifts to give rise to unprecedented universal challenges –shaking old certainties around traditional employment policies and education. It’s clear that achieving a fair, sustainable and inclusive jobs market will take a concerted global effort and more than a little original thinking. Ultimately, the question must be, can policy-makers respond quickly enough to changes that are happening?
Disruption brings risks
Argentina’s focus on the future of work follows a breakthrough last year when the employment working group of the G20 reached consensus on the need for new and bold policies to tackle the intimidating realities of a fast-changing jobs market. Digitisation, automation, the growing effects of globalisation, ageing populations, irregular migration patterns, gender disparities and changing societal expectations have changed the paradigm. Taken to their extremes, the two biggest risks of this disruption are dramatically greater inequality, with increased demand on social protection systems, and education systems that are just not fit for purpose –producing workforces without the skills and training needed to do the jobs of tomorrow. Both these risks threaten the continuation of long-standing social contracts that have helped to create and sustain modern societies.
Innovation and opportunity
However, while there are enormous challenges, the huge changes that confront policy-makers also represent an opportunity. The working group is committed to driving the creation of innovative institutional frameworks and adaptive employment and social policies that will help to resolve the huge uncertainties around the future of work, and seize on the potential of the changes taking place. But while that global, multi-lateral leadership is essential, it is also critical that all regions and markets contribute to the formulation of new policies, and demonstrate leadership of their own. Equally, it is important that as the working group makes its recommendations, it draws on examples of best practice from around the world.
The ‘disruptive mindset’
Those determining future policy priorities could do worse than look to Bahrain. Bahrain has been a regional pioneer with a constant drive for further improvement, applying adaptive policies for over 40 years. We were one of the first countries in the Gulf to realise that traditional approaches to creating a dynamic business environment were inflexible and outdated. So, we worked closely with businesses, shaping the policy environment alongside business and political leaders, and proving to international companies that a government can keep pace with evolving business needs. This experience taught us what it takes to understand the ‘disruptive mindset’, and has inspired the innovative approach that we apply across our economic, employment and social policies.
Dealing with change
For example, Bahrain’s National Strategy for Higher Education, launched in 2014, is focused on developing a world-class education environment that future-proofs careers and meets the needs of Bahrain’s diversifying and growing economy. Our economic Vision 2030 is built on the principles of sustainability, competitiveness and fairness –and has delivered a 47% increase in the average income of a Bahraini family. Conscious that change never slows, we put a premium on continuous learning. The Kingdom’s Tamkeen Labour Fund has supported around 170,000 Bahrainis to retrain and upskill.
As the world grows increasingly automated and digitised, we have embraced technological change. Next year, Amazon Web Services (AWS) will open the first hyper-scale data centre in the region in Bahrain –a huge boost for tech-based innovation and start-ups. In 2017 we partnered with AWS on a cloud-training programme, AWS Educate, and over 2,500 young Bahrainis signed up within a few months of its launch – a faster sign-up rate than both China and India. And at the EDB our commitment to an inclusive workplace means that women now make up more than 60% of the total workforce, occupying about half of the top management positions.
No single country has all the answers, and of course, we haven’t achieved this success alone. It’s been built on the back of strong alliances and partnerships. Whether it is between the public and private sectors, between academia and business, or among a partnership of nations, the challenge of harnessing all our talents to plan for the future of work begins with accepting that we must find new ways of working together. Bahrain offers its full support to the G20 as it tries to anticipate the rapidly changing needs and demands of the workforce of tomorrow.