How China is getting ready for the future of work

Representatives from the Chinese government, the academia and enterprises discussed and agreed in-depth research is needed on the future of work in China and its effects on the well-being of people and sustainable growth.

News | 15 July 2016
BEIJING (ILO News) – The International Labour Organization (ILO), China’s Renmin University and Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS) have kick-started discussions to explore how China will be impacted by the developments in the world of work due to technological developments, shifts in economy and changing dynamics of macro-economic factors.

ILO specialist Jae-Hee Chang at the seminar
Participants at a seminar co-organized by Renmin University and the ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia on Tuesday called for fast-tracking research to feed into policy dialogues at all levels. The seminar followed the recent launch of an ILO study that examines technological impacts on some economic sectors from member countries of the Association of the South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The findings are believed to help understand the current and evolving changes in the Chinese labour market.

The participants noted that while digitalized technologies such as robotics, additive manufacturing, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are replacing certain tasks within specific sectors and changing workplace relationships, they are also generating the need for different types of workers and creating new jobs and even new sectors in China.

“Technology has certainly challenged the need for certain types of workers; at the same time new windows of opportunities are emerging,” said Hao Jianbin, Senior Expert of Policy Research Department of the Alibaba Group. “The rise of e-commerce in China has resulted in significant expansion of jobs related to logistics and delivery as well as opportunities for entrepreneurship. Critically, delivery tasks provide jobs to workers from rural areas.” A report released from Alibaba in March 2016 shows that the company provides more than 15 million jobs for online shop owners and indirectly created more than 30 million employment opportunities.

On the other hand, participants noted that certain jobs will be inevitably displaced due to slowdown of the global economy, economic transformation and technological advancements such as robotic automation. The need for diversifying employment opportunities and enhancing employment quality were stressed and social partners should play a critical role in mitigating potential risks related to the changes in the labour market.

Liu Hansong, Deputy Director of International Affairs Department of China Enterprise Confederation (CEC), said that CEC, All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) and the government must ensure that meaningful employment is available in the future. “We need to actively manage the future of work. Employers must anticipate their changing skills needs and workers need support through forward-looking training to ensure their skills remain relevant as China moves up to higher-value production,” she said.

Employers and workers' representatives together with the government and key stakeholders need to look ahead and position themselves strategically to respond to the future workforce's concerns and expectations."

Jae-Hee Chang, ILO Employers' Specialist
In fact, the Chinese government will soon initiate research to adapt the labour regulatory framework to provide adequate protection for workers who are in new forms of employment such as Uber drivers.

“The research is expected to provide a basis for policy reforms that will lead to a healthy balance employment opportunities, income security, and protection of workers,” said Li Mingfu, Director of Institute of International Labour and Social Security of MOHRSS. He said the research will need engagement from the government at all levels, employers’ and workers’ organizations and the civil society.

The ILO will also play a critical role in supporting constituents in China to prepare for the forthcoming challenges in the world of work. The Future of Work Initiative was first launched by Guy Ryder, Director General of the ILO, last year as one of the ILO’s seven Centenary Initiatives. “Employers and workers’ representatives together with the government and key stakeholders need to look ahead and position themselves strategically to respond to the future workforce’s concerns and expectations,” said Jae-Hee Chang, Employers’ Specialist of the ILO and co-author the ASEAN in Transformation publication series. “Stronger policy commitments, accelerated coordination efforts and dialogue are especially critical for technological advancement to positively contribute towards inclusive growth that is shaped with better employment opportunities.”