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Pre-Christmas Debates about New Roles in the Digital Age

The 'map of professions' is being redrafted right in front of our eyes, and approaches to staff training are changing radically. Russian and German experts discussed the factors affecting the labour market in the 21st century in an unusual format — podium debates combined with a pre-Christmas reception. The event was hosted by the Moscow German Embassy’s Department of Science, the German Centre for Research and Innovation (DWIH), and the Higher School of Economics on 4 December, 2018.

Information technologies create millions of new jobs, but they also make many people unemployed. It’s important to identify the opportunities and threats brought by the emerging wave of digitisation in time, believed Michael Dobis, head of the German Embassy’s Department of Science. HSE is an important partner of German organisations interested in researching these issues (mainly members of the Helmholtz and Leibniz Associations).

Andreas Hoeschen, head of the DWIH Moscow, noted that cooperation was fruitful — and not just in the area discussed at the meeting but in a number of others which, as the speaker reminded, were elaborated upon in May in the scope of the joint HSE-OECD workshop. Impact of digital technologies on the labour market and the education sector was the key note of a series of events hosted in 2018 by all five German Centres for Research and Innovation.

HSE carefully monitors the 'rise and fall' of professions, constantly adapting its educational programmes to match demand in the labour market. In 2018 experts at the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge implemented the project '25 Professions for the Future HSE is Training Students In'; in the next year, the first issue of the Foresight and STI Governance journal will be devoted to the effects of digitalisation on the labour market. Relevant topics are becoming increasingly important in the science, technology, and innovation policy agenda, noted in his welcoming address Leonid Gokhberg, HSE First Vice Rector and ISSEK Director.

The first presentation of the podium debates was made by Jivka Ovtcharova, professor at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Digitisation affects the very core, the fabric of the society, stressed the prominent information scientist: how people live and communicate. To adapt to the inevitable change it’s important to develop a digital mentality, a 'design thinking'. Creative professions are increasingly taking centre stage, but other professionals should also abandon stereotype thinking and start trying something new, noted the professor.

Alina Sorgner, researcher at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy known for her work on transformation of job-related activities (among others to the audience of the Foresight and STI Governance journal where she published the paper 'The Automation of Jobs: A Threat for Employment or a Source of New Entrepreneurial Opportunities?' in 2017) spoke about the effects of digitisation on various groups of workers. The researcher believed men engaged in medium-skilled work where at the highest risk. Women in low-skilled jobs, typically working with other people, were less vulnerable since caring for children or the elderly cannot be very easily handed over to 'digital assistants'.

Thinking about the future in terms of the past or the present, reducing complexity in the science and technology domain is fraught with making grave mistakes, reminded Leonid Gokhberg. This includes the changing model of employment as such, and what we’re used to calling a profession. Even now it’s more of a dynamic competence portfolio, the content of which is changing due to various trends including social and value ones. 'We’re dealing with a whole host of serious shifts in the economy and society, and the challenges they create; note that these challenges are not purely — not even primarily — technological ones', stressed professor Gokhberg. According to him the key to being successful in the future, and an important skill in its own right, will be ability to properly balance hard skills (such as professional ones, including technology-related knowledge) and soft ones (unrelated to any specific subject area but essential for the individual’s successful involvement in work, and for achieving high productivity).

Natalia Shmatko, head of the ISSEK Department for Human Capital Research and coordinator of the '25 Professions for the Future HSE is Training Students In' project, also believed the concept of profession was obsolete. The set of competences individuals needs significantly changes during their working life. Therefore you cannot learn a profession for life. We must accept that we’ll have to learn something new all the time. Also, many skills come only with age, such as, e.g., team management and organising other people. 'Team leader is a very important role which requires a wide range of soft skills, but there are very few places where one can learn it', stressed Natalia Shmatko. According to the researcher, new requirements and labour relations formats are particularly evident in areas where advanced digital technologies are developed or actively applied, such as financial sector.

Dmitri Volkov, director for development of educational technologies at the Sberbank Corporate University, demonstrated how professions can be 'washed out' from the whole industry in just a decade. E.g. when Herman Gref headed the biggest bank in the country, the bank employed about ten underwriters (who were responsible for assessing credit risks). Then their number grew to 5 or 6 thousand, and then just as quickly dropped again when artificial intelligence became capable of doing their job much quicker and more efficiently. Older workers might not feel very comfortable in the bright new digital world, but inclusion in the digital environment doesn’t primarily depend on one’s age, believed professor Volkov. Continuous learning is being replaced by parallel one ('learning in the flow of life and work'), so now one should speak not about professions but roles. The roles and competencies of people who are in charge of shaping and carrying out the educational process is a different issue altogether.

Elena Parikova from the KNAUF RF and CIS Academy also agreed that age differentiation was fading into the background. She spoke about adjusting 'parallel staff training' in a different industry — production of construction materials and systems: 'People want to save time, so we apply digital techniques in staff training, such as VR'. In the multinational KNAUF company production processes, supply chain management, sales ('DIY comes in the economy, shops are becoming irrelevant'), and training practices alike are increasingly based on IT solutions.

Yuri Kupriyanov, manager of the SAP University Alliance’s academic programme, believed there was no longer a point in learning skills for future use: 'More than 60% of children who are now beginning their secondary school studies will work in professions which don’t exist yet'. Yuri told how SAP, a major developer of business applications, was teaching students to address clients’ real-life problems using the company tools. SAP cooperates with many universities in this format, including HSE. As to skills for the future, Yuri specifically noted creativity. In his experience there was 'a surplus of functionality on the IT market, and a big shortage of ideas'.

HSE plans to host more expert discussions on challenges, approaches, and practical steps to support human capital development and education, science and technology, and innovation policy shaping jointly with the German Embassy in Moscow in 2019. Follow our announcements of new joint events.

Photos provided by the German Centre for Research and Innovation in Moscow. See the full set on Facebook

Graphics: flaticon.com/authors/freepik

See also:

A review of the event on the websites of the German Centre for Research and Innovation in Moscow (DWIH), the German Embassy in Moscow, and the Moscow State Regional University (in Russian)