Global judgements and ideas.
In February 2015, the House of Lords The House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills 2015 published ‘Make or Break: the UK’s Digital Future’. A range of issues were covered, from accessibility and digital inclusion to online safety, cybersecurity, mechanisation of work, surveillance and privacy. Despite a wealth of detailed points in the categories given, what the report fails to highlight is that our digital future is unequal. Women, young people, ethnic minorities and the working class are most at risk as we head into the ‘digital future’. If these issues are not taken seriously and addressed by the next elected government we will see exacerbated inequalities and intensified discrimination. The ‘make or break report’ indicates that everything ‘has become digitised’. So what is the link between supposed universal digitisation and young people’s unemployment, the lack of women in STEM jobs, ethnic minority exclusion and working class pressures?
The jobs most at risk of mechanisation, or machines replacing humans at work, are at the vulnerable end of the job market including administrative work, services, transportation, construction and manufacturing. Governments’ investment in cultivating a ‘knowledge based economy’ have largely led to jobs in higher skilled arenas and many creative jobs are carried out by underemployed, precarious workers. Work in once-lucrative areas of manufacturing are rapidly disappearing. There is an ongoing lack of women in IT and engineering jobs. In the UK, women only fill 6% of engineering and 15.5% of STEM jobs and 85% of university places in IT given to men. Further, apparently, education at all levels has not kept up with changing skills demands also despite the increase in private/public partnerships. This is worsened by low levels of support for young people whose unemployment remains critical. 27% of unemployed 16- 24 year olds had been unemployed for over 12 months and 188,000 18 to 24-year-olds have been unemployed for more than 12 months, particularly acute for young ethnic minorities, whose long term unemployment has risen by 49% since 2010. Turkey, Germany and Japan the only advanced nations whose young people have not experienced a significant rise in young people’s unemployment and inactivity. In 2014, the ILO reported that 75m young people globally and 6 per cent of all 15 – 24 year olds were unemployed. The OECD reported that 26m young people in the ‘rich world’ are NEETS. The World Bank reports that 260m in developing economies are ‘inactive’ and the Economist that almost 290m of planet’s youth are neither working nor studying. This is nearly a quarter of young people. In the UK, investment in apprenticeship schemes has failed to bring young people out of under-and unemployment. Despite ongoing availability in schemes, there is a drop in take-up. Research must be done to identify why young people do not want the apprenticeships made available. The failure of ‘the promise’ started by New Labour, for full and unprecedented access to creative jobs in an exhilerating world of work has left young people with a sour taste and a jaded perspective.
Technology alone has been proven time after time to fail to change society at a structural level. The new world of work and our digital future appears as unequal as anything we have experienced.
These are notes from my talk at the Digital Citizen event at the House of Commons organised by Cybersalon on the Digital Citizen 23/03/15.