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Making better use of skills and technology in workplaces

Maija Lyly-Yrjänäinen Tiina Hanhike Published Date 12.7.2019 14.06 Blog

Authors: Maija Lyly-Yrjänäinen and Tiina HanhikeThe transformation taking place in the economy and in society affects many walks of life, such as technological development, artificial intelligence, platform work, sustainable growth, competitiveness and continuous learning.

These and many other terms that are crucial for Finland and Europe were frequently heard in the presentations given at the Enhancing Sustainable Growth: Skills and Smart Work Organization in the Digital Era event, held in the early days of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, where public officials from the EU Member States convened to hear input from scientists, politicians, social partners and company representatives.

Building skills throughout life and working life is a priority in not just one, but several policy areas. High level of skills is associated with economic growth and innovation, as well as wellbeing and active participation in society. At the same time, however, it is a sensitive subject because responsibility for skills development rests with multiple parties, including society, the education system, labour market organisations, and ultimately, workplaces and individuals.

How can we make sure everyone’s skills are put to effective use in workplaces, and how can we ensure continuous learning, so that skills will match the needs of the constantly changing work environment? Increasingly few people in today’s working life have the opportunity - or the desire, for that matter - to remain employed in the same workplace and in the same occupation throughout their lives. Even if the occupation stays the same, the actual work almost certainly changes over the years. What role does working life play in upskilling? How can workplaces support the use of technology and innovations?

One third of employees in Europe feel that their skills and capabilities are not being fully utilised.

Many workplaces today struggle with a skills shortage due to a lack of suitable labour force. At the same time, approximately one third of employees in Europe feel that their skills and capabilities are not being fully utilised. Although steps must be taken to ensure the availability of skilled labour, it is also necessary to take workplace practices under closer observation. Opportunities for upskilling and independent work are key motivational drivers for skilled employees.

Workplace practices, leadership styles and the organisation of work in general significantly affect employees’ ability to demonstrate their skills and put them into effective use. Technological advancement further accentuates the significance of workplace practices. The growing role of technology reflects on a number of things: it affects communication, support functions, job supervision, and standardisation. The digitisation of processes inevitably introduces new routines.

Ideally, technology will make many things easier, make work more meaningful and introduce models of cooperation that permit more versatile use of skills. But in reality, technology may start to affect our behaviour and make organisational structures more rigid. Frequently the discussion turns to the degree to which machines could replace humans. 

Many Finnish workplaces have adopted new practices. These help them to make the most of technological progress and to attract the labour force they need. Speakers at the event gave examples of organisations based on self-directed teams where focus was on transparency and values, and of approaches that allowed the organisation to tap into everyone’s skills and ideas for service development purposes.

Using digitalisation to formulate a company’s practices and policies is a complex change. Especially small and medium-sized enterprises need support to implement such a change. They need encouraging examples, learning and cooperation networks between companies, and research that stimulates development work and provides a new direction.

Professor Steven Dhondt from the European Workplace Innovation Network EUWIN talked about the importance of innovations related to the organisation of work to the introduction of new technology. He challenged Finland to bring workplace innovations into Europe-wide discussions and to implement them in workplaces.

Authors Maija Lyly-Yrjänäinen and Tiina Hanhike are Senior Specialists in the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Employment.

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