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New jobs from bottlenecks

| Text: Carl-Gustav Lindén

Sustainable development will be the main trend for working life next year, predicts Finnish future researcher Antti Kasvio at the Helsinki-based Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. He and colleague Timo Räikkönen have looked at how global changes influence the way we work.

Mr Kasvio imagines nothing less than a new industrial revolution which will lead to more scarcity of resources and an increased pressure on the environment. CO2 targets will force technical innovation which brings an ecological structural change.   

This development will have bottlenecks like access to clean water, lack of energy or the increasing need for tailored solutions for a growing elderly population, yet it is in these areas new jobs will be created.

"We'll be seven billion people soon. Previous industrial revolutions only applied to industrial nations. We now know that is no longer possible."

The Nordic countries now have the chance to use global demographic changes to create new business opportunities. Mr Kasvio uses India as an example - a country were 110 million people will be unemployed by 2020 according to a Goldman Sachs prognosis. That is one third of the global labour force. Food consumption is expected to increase 2.5 times, housing needs will rise fourfold and education needs will rise fivefold. The Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations are set to grow as fast as those in the Middle East and Africa.

China is shrinking

But Western-European populations are decreasing while the number of middle aged people is increasing. China will experience many years of strong growth and a growing labour market thanks to a transformation from agriculture and inefficient state industries to modern industries. Yet the one-child policy inevitably means a shrinking and ageing population. China's population is expected to fall by 200 million people by 2050. That means a shift in the global workforce and the fight for jobs will intensify while demands on productivity increase.

The great global question will be how people will try to overcome poverty and what effects that will have on the environment and global resources in the wake of increased consumption. Kasvio argues the recent financial crisis demonstrated our present way of life is unsustainable. We are disturbing the climate with CO2 emissions and we are amassing debts which future generations will have to pay off. 

"We need to limit consumption and emissions. We might be prepared for radical decisions on a more general level, but less so when measures start effecting our jobs."

That's why the debate among Nordic researchers on sustainable development in working life is so important. One year ago, under Sweden's EU presidency, the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (FAS), Vinnova (he Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems) and the European Social Fund in Sweden organised a conference on sustainable working life in an EU perspective. The meeting contributed input to the European Commission's EU 2020 strategy.

Local perspective

Kasvio says change must emanate from work places themselves and be based on a calculation of sustainability based on four dimensions – economical, human, ecological and social. Is my organisation sustainable, can it pay my wages? How is the job being done, am I coping and do I want to work here? How does my organisation use energy and how does it deal with waste? Are working conditions socially sustainable or are other people suffering as a consequence of what I am doing?

"These basic conditions apply to us all."

If we begin with our own workplaces we see that we can change things with not much effort. If we try to tackle the larger structures we face challenges which seem unsurmountable. Antti Kasvio points out that large companies work a lot with these questions and hire working life researchers who systematically examine processes of change and sustainable development.

"Nokia is a good example of a company which is considered to be among the best when it comes to sustainable development."

His own organisation, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and its staff of 800, is a good example of the potential business opportunities, he says. It has considerable competence in the form of research on how people can manage to stay in work for longer. That competence can be changed into consultancy services which can be sold to companies and authorities.

"In China all competence on how to prolong a career is worth good money."

The World is heading into a new era with strong economic growth and Antti Kasvio thinks new jobs will be created in the bottlenecks of that development: water, food, energy. The focus on green jobs, already part of European stimulus policies, points in this direction, even though some of those measures ended up being a bit of a bubble. The potential is by no means exhausted, however.

"Here in the Nordic region we have a good chance to ride the wave of this new growth," says Mr Kasvio, who hopes wealthy funds and foundations - like Norway's oil fund - will make the most of those opportunities. 

"I still believe in the Nordic model's ability to compete, but it must be based on a growth strategy which is linked to sustainable development and a flexible social security system."

Are the unions keeping up?

The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (FFC) has mapped the future challenges facing their members. This happened in conjunction with FFC's centenary in 2007. Matti Huttola is the FFC's head of labour and industry. He reckons unions are facing a change. The future strategy includes a rethink of unions' role where they would seek to influence social policies to a greater extent and to take part in the debate on renewal rather than sticking to the status quo.    

"We will become more active in this debate than before."

Sustainable development is part of the picture, but Mr Huttola thinks Finland for a long time to come will remain a country where economic growth is closely linked to energy intensive industry. The problem is that the industry becomes more and more efficient. It's contribution to the GNP has stayed at the same high level for the past couple of decades while the number of workers has been halved. 

"We have two different things to consider: where to create new jobs and where to create new industry."

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