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The labor market after the pandemic

Digital format, 29/03/2021, Cross-generation roundtable

The covid-19 pandemic has been an extraordinary accelerator of trends already begun prior to the emergency. During the March 2020 lockdown, progress was made regarding the Italian labor market in just a few weeks.  In terms of digitalization, the resilience of organizational models, and the spread of specific skills, this transition would otherwise have taken decades. While in early 2020 remote working was still just an experimental protocol granted to employees solely under certain conditions, by the spring it had been affirmed with lightning speed, even for jobs that earlier had been considered impossible to perform remotely without impacting results. There were immediate benefits in terms of economic sustainability for companies, environmental sustainability for society at large, and life/work balance for families.

However, at the same time, jobs have fallen victim to the pandemic: the social safety net put in place by the government following the lockdown’s dramatic impact on numerous economic activities was in fact not enough to prevent the occurrence of a severe crisis. New inequalities have emerged, leading to a polarization of the workforce based on age, gender, and professional setting.

This condition of Italian workers is aggravated by the emergence of new forms of alienation. Now that the number of hours of work spent by each employee every day has lost its central importance, the boundary between the private and the professional dimensions has been blurred. The need always to be available – and thus always connected – has exposed workers to many risks relevant to the psychological emergency that has exploded in society, parallel to the pandemic.

The health emergency has persisted for more than a year, and it now seems necessary to abandon contingency measures in favor of systemic responses to the crisis in progress. The wages guarantee fund and the firing freeze are not tools to be used for an excessively prolonged period of time. To combat the employment crisis, an entire development model – and, consequently, the categories with which the labor market had been structured prior to the Fourth Industrial Revolution – must be rethought.

Since the beginning of the widespread reliance on remote working, it has been clear how necessary it is to reorganize professional life not on an hourly basis but as a function of clear objectives. However, the management procedures for achieving this goal have yet to be identified. A restructuring operation of this kind requires new attention to human capital, in terms both of constant training and of a renewed central importance of skills. Furthermore, the latter must become a compass to guide business culture, starting from the processes of personnel recruitment. The reorganization of workforces and actions by parties representing workers must be based on these developments.

The pandemic challenges public and private institutions to adopt a culture of environmental, social, and economic sustainability. The challenge is also to put the focus back on people, their training, and their right to express their potential. The post-covid world raises the necessary prospect of a new humanism inspired by the principles of health, sustainability, and well-being.