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Raf Uzar


Head of Communication & Development

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The future of work: An emerging partnership between L&D and employment law

Employment law and L&D may seem like an unlikely fusion, but both functions must work together to prepare for the future of work.

It is incredibly humbling when you realise you are witnessing historical, earth-shaking changes that will not only affect the people around you but potentially generations to come. 

The very fact that a British learning and development (L&D) specialist and a Polish attorney-at-law have come together to put their ideas on paper is indicative of the interdisciplinary nature of the changes sweeping over us all. 

So what are these changes? This is not a trick question. Covid-19 has of course had a seismic impact on society, but these changes were bubbling under the surface for three or four years prior to the pandemic explosion. 

Institutions like the OECD, World Economic Forum and the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have all been highlighting the impact of what has come to be called the 'future of work'.

All our definitions of the future of work highlight the need for upskilling and reskilling.

According to the OECD, this term includes a host of dimensions:

  1. A fairer world of work. How can we rebuild the world of work, especially after Covid-19, to give people more opportunities and decrease inequalities?

  2. A world reshaped by digitalisation. Nearly 14% of jobs are likely to be automated, while another 32% are at high risk of being partially automated. Young people and those with low skills are those at highest risk – but new technological developments are now also affecting the jobs of the high-skilled too

  3. Skills & learning. Are those who most need training actually receiving it? People need to successfully navigate the changing world of work and acquire the right skills for new jobs and new tasks in today’s world

  4. Social protection. The pandemic is taking a heavy toll on jobs, with millions now unemployed. Many countries have been taking unprecedented measures to keep people in work and to support those out of work. This was partially due to big changes in our economies, but also to new business models, with a shift towards more service jobs and more ‘non-standard’ jobs in some countries. These are ones in which people work part-time, have temporary contracts, or are self-employed, including as ‘gig’ workers

  5. Ensuring job quality. Whether a person has a good quality job or not has a profound impact on their wellbeing. Job quality is determined by wages, stability, and working conditions – from safety to human relationships. Labour market regulation can help ensure jobs are good quality, but may need to be adapted for some new forms of work and the unprecedented impact of the pandemic. Collective bargaining can also play an important role.

In a nutshell, this means that the world of employment – an area that affects every single person on the globe – can only be improved through the fusion of AI, L&D, and Law.

The future of work is seen to be such an important issue for the future of humanity that the World Economic Forum has set up a taskforce of 200 executives and experts from across the globe in nine key industries with three main objectives:

  1. Enhance company capacity for informed action pertaining to jobs and skills transformation

  2. Curate upskilling and reskilling programmes to close skills gaps

  3. Create local reskilling and redeployment ecosystems for workers at risk

Where does L&D and Law fit in?

All our definitions of the future of work highlight the need for upskilling and reskilling. This is not just a case of taking a course and learning something new. The ability to learn (and to know what to learn, and to want to learn) is itself a skill.

In all probability this means that companies will need to begin hiring L&D specialists and creating hitherto unheard-of roles. Lawyers will need to assess current legislation to meet the needs of both employers and employees.

Polish labour law, for example, imposes on employers the general obligation to enable employees to improve their professional qualifications. However, this is not followed up by any specific and effective incentives which might prompt employers to consider reskilling options versus the necessity to simply lay people off.

Only in the case of collective redundancies – which pertains to larger employees laying off a large part of their staff at once – does Polish law require the employer to consult requalification possibilities with trade unions or employee representatives. 

Representatives of employees may, however, merely suggest possible solutions and in reality these consultations very rarely result in the implementation of any effective reskilling programmes. If legislation is going to convince employers to prioritise reskilling over full redundancy, introducing much more effective tools is indispensable. 

Reskilling, upskilling, the appropriate interpretation of current law as well as new legislation is necessary to make the transition to this future.

The skills of the future

A recent report by McKinsey & Co asked 800 people from 8 countries across a variety of company sizes what they envisioned for the post-pandemic workforce. These executives believed that of the people their company would hire in the future, 83% would be in health and safety, 68% would be in technology and automation, and 45% would be in digital learning and agile ways of working.

The report also found that the future of work will bring with it a change in the occupational mix in the years ahead. The share of STEM professionals, health/wellness workers, and educators/trainers will increase with a similar decrease in customer services, sales and office support.

In the years to come, up to 21 million may have to leave declining occupations and 94 million workers will have to acquire new skills because more than 20% of what they do today can be handled by technology.

These changes go hand in hand with general trends moving through the European Union, which will require not only reskilling by large sections of the workforce but legal consultation in preparation for redundancies, new hires, and new roles.

The report by McKinsey & Co found that many job sectors would be displaced by Covid-19 and automation, with massive numbers of people potentially at risk.

Jobs at risk broken down by sector include:

  • Wholesale and retail 5,411 

  • Manufacturing 4,281

  • Accommodation and food services 2,970

  • Construction 2,365

Whether they like it or not, employers in the above industries will need to pay special attention to redundancy procedures to protect themselves from a flood of appeals against terminations, which according to all predictions are extremely likely to happen. 

The shift to contractors 

What is more, two years from now, about 70% of the polled executives in the McKinsey survey expect to use more temporary workers and contractors onsite at their companies than they did before the crisis.

The impact of this change on employment law and company resources will be huge. The most obvious result will be a substantial increase of workforce not being protected by employment law provisions, including those regarding terminations.

Such a profound change of organisational structure will also affect those who remain in an employment relationship with the company, since a great deal of these people may fall out of scope of collective labour law provisions or internal regulations that are obligatory for larger employers (including work and wage regulations or employee benefit funds).

If civil law contractors constitute a substantial part of the workforce in the future, some new serious legal issues may arise. Lawmakers will need to consider further changes aimed at decreasing the gap between employee and contractor social/legal benefits. Otherwise, employers may encounter a growing number of claims for the establishment of an employment relationship.

Whether we like it or not, the future of work is here

Reskilling, upskilling, the appropriate interpretation of current law as well as new legislation is necessary to make the transition to this future.

Training programmes which are guaranteed by both the government and employers will need to become standard. A higher proportion of non-standard employment agreements is set to become the norm.

Already, the increased mobility and diversification of the workforce is on the increase. Our role as professionals with a vested interest in the development of the workforce is to make this transition as painless and smooth as possible.

Interested in this topic? Read 'Why is L&D still not aligning reskilling programmes with business needs?'

Author Profile Picture
Raf Uzar

Head of Communication & Development

Read more from Raf Uzar

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