GES Interview with Duncan Campbell
Duncan Campbell is the Director of the Policy Integration Department of the International Labour Office. We had the opportunity to speak with him about his thoughts on “The Future of Work”, a session on which he will serve as a panelist during this year’s GES in Kuala Lumpur.
How did you come to know about GES?
I’m supposed to know about these things. Plus, Thierry Malleret got me on the agenda last year.
Can you give us a bit of background on your solution proposal for “The Future of Work”?
I thought that in GES it might be good to have an International Labour Organization (ILO) view on what we are working with in the future of work. Therefore, the future of work needs inter alia to be viewed in terms of who is to do that work, who is to contribute through innovation, creativity, drive, ambition, etc. I describe a labour supply comprising a large minority of the future of work which has no such capture of those big nouns.
In my solution proposal, I particularize. I talk about stunting, I talk about abject poverty, I talk about social immobility and thus the inter-generational perpetuation of poverty. I talk about the sociology and cultural, and therefore, implicitly, the legal frameworks that can frustrate the future of work.
I could tell another story, e.g. the growth of the global middle class, but i think GES needs the downside, too.
Who are the key stakeholders involved?
Well, first off it’s a matter of nation states. i argue that a good review of the expenditure structure of fiscal spending is in order here. We could go to second order matters such as resource mobilization, etc., but for the purposes of this solution proposal, I don’t go there. The question I pose is whether expenditure structures reflect in fact what ought to be macroeconomic policy priorities — for me, health and education. I leave demand deficiency matters aside. These are certainly worthy of discussion, however not in my brief solution proposal. Identify macroeconomic priorities as if the supply side of the future of work mattered, and the rest ought to conform. So, I say state first…this precluding NGOs, mulitlaterals, bilateral donors, etc.
Would you consider yourself a techno-optimist, or a techno-pessimist?
A technology optimist? History would refute me if I said no, so I say no. OK, we are in an era of quite rapid technological change veering closely to practical application. Will there be job losses? Without a doubt. I wouldn’t study to be a paralegal secretary just now, or an X-ray technician who wants to work in New York with a big salary. So, what technology does is accelerate the obsolescence and creation of occupations. Again, this has never been a negative sum prospect. I am inclined to David Autor’s and Frank Levy’s points of view. Put too simply, occupations are changing rapidly. I’m old enough to know that I don’t know what a website designer actually does. But the conceptual distinction that does make sense to me is the distinction between routine and non-routine jobs. No gardener will be replaced, neither will the topflight heart surgeon. I am a technology optimist. I am certainly against the “end of work” nonsense of the 1990s. I am more concerned about the “end of jobs” (rather than work) matter, but that leads us into labour market regulation which you have, thankfully, not asked me to address.
In your opinion, what is the single greatest hurdle facing the next generation as it enters the workforce?
First, understand that the 15-and-less year-old in Cambodia has already entered the labour market. He or she is acquiring skills. He or she is perhaps not likely to progress in a career. Careers in informal markets are heavily longevity / seniority (therefore) based. But let’s turn to the developed world. Yes, credentials matter, but I believe more and more in apprenticeships. They are, in a sense, “no-cost” assessment periods. It is an opportunity for the young entrant to evaluate the work of work as he or she experiences it — “i like it, I don’t” — it is an opportunity for the supervisor to evaluate potential, to evaluate that the young person is good at this, less good at that, etc. It is a contributiion to work that provides even better feedback — evaluation for future work. Let’s look at Germany, Switzerland, Austria, developing world, but in the developing world, too, take China, South Africa.
I guess the important question is the school to work transition. We look at this closely at ILO – at a gender-disaggregated basis.