The pandemic untimely brought online classes, telecommuting, virtual meetings, telemedicine and distance shopping into our lives. Digital technologies are becoming universal with the force that necessity imposes.
But at the same time that digitization processes accelerate, the great problems of citizens and countries in the face of technology are exposed and, if measures are not taken, they may become the seed of a social crisis in the future. Fortunately, there are cases that can show us how we take advantage of a digital revolution to help all of our citizens.
Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with one of the largest digital skills gaps in the world. According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), four out of ten Latin Americans do not finish school and drop out before the age of twelve. The International Labor Organization (ILO) states that 22% of young people in this region do not study, work, or train, this being a reality that disproportionately affects women (30% compared to 14% of the mens). And now that teleworking and distance education have proven their validity as strategies for economic and educational continuity, the fact that, in 2019, 34% of the region’s population reported not having access to the internet in their homes is dramatized. homes.
At the same time, Latin America has increased the demand for workers with digital skills, with an increase in the use of digital labor platforms to find work and generate income. Goods distribution or passenger transfer companies, for example, have multiplied their number of workers in recent months and, given the uncertainty, many companies have sought to hire independent external workers or freelancers that do not involve increases in their workforce.
Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with one of the largest digital skills gaps in the world
From the point of view of consumers, many of the confined people have digitized their work and social interactions at the same time that they have opted for online consumption and purchases. This includes older people who in the past had resistance to the use of digital services and now, forced by circumstances, have adapted using services such as Internet banking, not being able to physically go to branches. All this has stimulated and accelerated the hiring of workers for these digital platforms and makes it necessary to pay special attention to the labor rights of workers in these sectors, according to a study recently published by the IDB innovation laboratory, BID Lab.
Digital transformation requires close collaboration between governments and entrepreneurs in situations where the public sector needs agile and scalable solutions. The Colombian Inspiramed project is paradigmatic by bringing together several ministries and private companies to develop mechanical fans that meet the requirements of the national regulatory agency and allow a rapid response to the needs caused by the pandemic. Digital transformation is also key to revitalizing sectors such as tourism, one of the most affected by the pandemic, or small businesses, such as neighborhood stores, which are the livelihood of millions of families in Latin America and the main channel access to food and common goods for many low-income neighborhoods. Promoting digitization can be essential to ensure the viability of these businesses.
Now technology has become the center of the strategies of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to provide educational continuity to 110 million students. Countries, such as Uruguay and Chile, which were more advanced in digitizing their content with educational platforms, resources, teacher training, and investments in infrastructure and connectivity, have proven to be better prepared to take on the challenge. From IDB Lab We have supported so that the education of millions of students was not interrupted. Our support has included a variety of financial instruments ranging from grants to contingent recovery investments, through social impact incentives, loans or investments aimed at fostering skills for the future through so-called EdTech or technology applications for education.
The promotion of digitization must be carried out with guarantees, avoiding that new forms of work lead to greater precariousness and lack of protection. It is the object of WorkerTech, a growing concept in Europe or the United States that emphasizes that independent and flexible workers emerged under the protection of digital services have personalized benefits and access to protection systems and defense of their rights. This idea, still incipient in Latin America and the Caribbean, can be applied not only to workers with new job modalities or digital platform workers, but also to the informal sector, which is still quite large in this region. Stimulating this ecosystem of services is essential to achieve a new social contract for the 21st century, taking advantage of the undeniable advantages of digitization without forgetting those who, because they work in an atypical way, may be excluded from protection systems.
Irene Arias Hoffman is CEO of BID Lab.