Jorge Barrero: In a distant future, we might “not need to work and receive an income”

  • ECO News
  • 6 February 2018

The COTEC Europa Summit will discuss, on Wednesday, the subject of labor market 4.0. The general manager of COTEC Spain, Jorge Barrero, believes "technology is a toolbox at the service of mankind".

It is still unknown how the evolution of technology will affect employment in the medium term, but it might be possible, “on a distant future”, to find society models where it is not necessary to work to receive an income, according to COTEC Spain general manager.

In written answers to ECO, Jorge Barrero says he expects that COTEC Europe Summit — which will occur this Wednesday, in Mafra — to be a “turning point” and put the topic on the political, corporate and union agenda. “The challenge involves everyone”, he concludes.

1. Do you think that technology will create work opportunities or will it destroy employment?

Technology is a toolbox at the service of mankind. Insofar as we use them, they always replace us in tasks and open up opportunities. Throughout history, and in particular since the first industrial revolution, employment on a global scale has continued to grow. In this new stage the change is more profound and radical, due to the arrival of much more sophisticated technologies, and we do not know with certainty how it will affect the quantity and quality of employment in the medium term, what we do know is that technological change does not occur spontaneously nor does it do so in the fairest and most inclusive direction of all possible, for that we need political leadership and social pact.

2. Will the development of technology fully replace human labor? When?

It will not do so in the coming decades; perhaps in the distant future we will find models of society where we do not have to work in order to receive an income, but I imagine a world where we will continue to have very diverse and perhaps even more intense activity, because the automation of heavy and dangerous tasks will allow us to focus on what makes us happy and where the “human touch” brings value.

3. Do you think that the growing use of technology puts in jeopardy Social Security and tax systems?

We must review all the mechanisms and institutions developed for industrial society, because we are about to overcome it.

4. Are employers and employees ready for these developments?

Surely not, but if there is one thing in which we far exceed the machines is in our flexibility and adaptability to change. Our brains are the same as those of Neolithic men and with this “hardware” we have come a long way. I’m optimistic

5. How can employers smooth this transition between technology and human labor?

We hope that the Cotec Europe Summit will be a turning point in our countries and place the issue on the political agenda, but also on the agenda of business and trade union leaders. The challenge involves everyone

6. Should the European Union already be discussing a sort of universal basic income to address the problem?

We must be open to all sorts of ideas, but there will be no one-size-fits-all solution. We must prepare our societies for change and innovation on a permanent basis – including in politics.

7. Given the high level of unemployment in Spain, will the growing use of technology aggravate this problem, especially concerning youth unemployment?

The development of the digital economy is precisely a great opportunity to generate employment among better trained and better adapted young people. On the other hand, a more technological world will lead to an ageing society and with more free time in which sectors such as health and tourism, in which Spain is a reference point, will generate millions of jobs.

8. Will technology push more workers to retirement, pressing the Spanish public system of pensions?

Technology will make us live longer and with higher quality. People who work on things that interest them and are in good health don’t usually think much about retirement. Since we’re imagining scenarios, I’m betting on that one. However, the pension challenge has more to do with demographics than with technology and ultimately depends on the model of society in which we choose to live.  There are many possible futures. The decision is political and in democracy we are all part of that decision.