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IICPSD discussed digital transformation, skills and the future of work with the private sector and development stakeholders

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Istanbul, Turkey, November 28, 2019 - The United Nations Development Programme Istanbul International Center for Private Sector in Development (UNDP IICPSD) organized the panel on “Digital Transformation and Skills” during the 10th Bosphorus Summit in Istanbul, on November 28, 2019. The discussion brought together the private sector and development leaders and experts, who addressed the future of skills and work in the era of digital transformation. 

The panel highlighted the global inclusion challenges of digital transformation and the increasing risk of a North-South divide in digitalization. In the rapidly evolving technological landscape, there is a growing gap between institutions that realize their digital transformation and those that do not utilize new technologies. Many actors in developing countries are struggling to achieve digital transformation and are faced with the risk of exclusion. Yet, it is possible to mitigate the North-South gap in digitalization. Through improved international cooperation, the Global South can reap the benefits of digital transformation.

Another global challenge generated by digital transformation will be the transformation of the workforce. Millions of new professions will be created, while others will disappear. In the digital era, job polarization will accelerate, leading to the gradual disappearance of jobs requiring a moderate level of skills. However, high-skilled workers and low-skilled workers will continue to find professional opportunities. For Mehmet Üvez (Principal Inclusion Specialist, EBRD), "job polarization is an inclusion challenge, and the focus should be on upskilling, reskilling, and relevant education." Providing education and digital skills to workers is vital for alleviating the effects of job polarization and achieving inclusive labor markets ine the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The private sector remains a significant stakeholder in digital skills development. Currently, private organizations hold most of the expertise and knowledge in terms of digital transformation. The private sector can share its know-how and contribute to digital skill development. By equipping workers with relevant knowledge and skills, private organizations can support a sustainable and inclusive digital transformation. Volunteerism is a particularly effective modality for the private sector in promoting digital skills development and the transfer of tacit skills. According to Dmitry Frischin (Regional Portfolio Specialist, UNV), online and on-site volunteering can aid in the transfer of digital knowledge and skills, thereby advancing developing countries' digital transformation.

Currently, the future impacts of digitalization are difficult to assess, but undoubtedly change will happen. A shift in our collective mindsets is needed to be prepared.  In this regard, Markus Schwertel (Government Relations Lead, Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa, HP Inc.) believes it is fundamental "learn to unlearn." To unlearn current thinking, teaching, and learning habits is the best way to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Learning to unlearn allows all stakeholders to be open to the profound changes generated by digital transformation. It also facilitates innovation and increases productivity, which is instrumental in advancing sustainable development.

The panel explored in-depth the possibilities for digital transformation and digital skills development to accelerate sustainable development, notably in developing countries. The multi-stakeholder discussion highlighted the transformative potential of digital transformation as well as its challenges.