Digital Transformation: Work under Transformation

As part of a general trend in the platformisation of the European economy, automatisation, additive factoring and the (global) redefinition of value chains and collaboration processes are drivers of industrial transformation. Obviously, these developments also have an impact on concrete working conditions. Civic education needs to address these topics and also assess the strategies for upskilling from a democratic and human-centered perspective. Read my first brochure in the series Digital Transformation in Learning for Active Citizenship.

From the Table of Content: Rationalization and Job Polarisation | The Crowd Working in the Cloud | Transformation of the Working Space | Toward Upskilling and Lifelong Learning | A Future without Labour? (R. Martinez)

  • Nils-Eyk Zimmermann: Work under Transformation
  • Pulblisher: DARE – Democracy and Human Rights Education in Europe
  • DARE Blue Lines, 52 pages, Brussels 2020

People often get very close with new technology in their working spaces. Today most of them use information technology (IT), although the differences among countries and also sectors are remarkable. Working spaces have also become more technologically enhanced. One result of digitalisation and rationalisation is job polarisation, an increase of high-profile and low-profile jobs while those in the middle vanish. On the other hand, platforms are creating a new kind of working environment, from low skills to highly specialized work. In particular this brochure also highlights how education policies and training strategies might respond to these challenges. We explain the European approach of upskilling. The brochure ends with scenarios in regard to (un)employment and labour and with the idea of a universal basic income, which has received increasing support thanks to discussions about digital transformation.

What is Platformisation?

An original creation of digital transformation is crowd-sourcing and platform work. The similarity to outsourcing gives us a hint at the original intention behind some platforms – decomposing complex work into parts and distributing them to self-employed workers outside their own workforce. Platforms facilitate the merging of purchasers and contractors. They offer infrastructure, set standards (terms of services) for both parties and earn a commission fee of a certain percentage of the transaction. Thanks to platforms, forms of labour that we thought were left in history – like domestic work or task-based salaries – are reappearing. This double movement might be seen as the key aspect behind platform-mediated crowd work argues the International Labour Organization: “crowd work might best be understood as part of a broader shift towards more precarious and contingent labour as well as towards more automated hiring and management processes” (Berg et al., 2018, p. 6) .

In fact, the involvement in platform-mediated transfers is very diverse and also changing the way to organise work in the education and NGO sectors.

Source: Greef & Schröder, 2017, p. 19

The Civil Society Organisation Perspective

In the non-profit sector, the cost-intensive self-hosted AI, digital facility management and big data solutions available for industrial entrepreneurs are still not considered as strategically relevant. On one hand, the potential of digitalisation seems to be underestimated here, but also another picture might be drawn. In contrast to larger economic structures, the variety of different purposes, sizes and styles of organizations and social enterprises do not fit a ”one-size-fits-all” approach. Internationally connected organizations have more expertise in tools and technology for collaboration. A noteworthy contingent of activists and organizations is putting emphasis on decentralized infrastructure and open source. Those dependent on private donations put efforts into social media and campaigning. Others are muddling through digitalisation with a pragmatic and less strategic approach: using a web-based translation here, or a survey tool or cloud for document sharing or backups, there. “In order to recognize the organization-specific way, and in order to assess and finally involve them, internal digital competencies and a professional organization are more important” (Edinger-Schons et al., 2020, p. 34).

Civic Education

The empowering and enabling response to the challenge of digital transformation is perceiving learning as a lifelong process and treating the individual worker as a potentially able and competent person. It assumes a shared interest of learner and employer and considers the opportunity of personal development. The other perspective is rather utilitarianist, centred around the human resource as a set of agglomerated skills. The learner plays a limited role, competence is not in the focus, and teaching seems aimed at ironing out the most problematic skill gaps. This was always a fight between representatives of employers and the employment side.

From an Education for Democratic Citizenship view, the ethical aspects and rights must always be involved. Only someone who knows about their rights and how to factually place them is able to act autonomously, defend themselves against abusive practice, participate actively in discussions about the developments or practice solidarity. Therefore, empowerment is at the core of Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education (EDC/HRE). Most likely, a competency-centred holistic approach of upgrading will succeed insocial partnership between employers and employment parties, as well as by cooperation between formal-, non-formal and vet learning.

Taking also into consideration that the value and status of labour as employment might shift, a large potential lies in the volunteerism and civil engagement in civil society organizations and initiatives. The activity as such would require increased appreciation for such initiatives and the organizations would also need greater support in order to enable them to align their offerings. Civic engagement could in this perspective also be recognized as a part of upskilling and civil society organizations as partners in outreach strategies. With a focus on a discussion of Universal Basic income we are today only at the beginning of the necessary debates.


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The brochure was published as part of the series Digital Transformation in Education for Democratic Citizenship, available at: https://dttools.eu

The project DIGIT-AL is a European cooperation coordinated by Arbeitskreis deutscher Bildungsstätten (AdB) and supported by the Erasmus + program of the European Union.