Rethinking work, all the more so after the pandemic, cannot be reduced to a mere reorganisation of companies or a few short-lived laws. It should be a cultural operation that makes sense. An operation that aims to virtuously involve politics, businesses, trade unions and individual workers.
This prompted Marco Bentivogli, a lifelong member of the Fim-Cisl metalworkers’ union and then founder of Base Italia startup, one of the most renowned experts on changes in the world of work, to write book. A book not linked to the economic situation but to “a prospective vision” on, as the title states, Il lavoro che ci salverà (The Work That Will Save Us). Care, innovation and redemption: a prospective vision (San Paolo, 2021).
Work that will save work
Which jobs will save us? We will be saved by work “that can overcome three challenges: digital, demographic and climate-environmental transformation; it will be work capable of healing, redeeming and liberating”.
The first real challenge, the challenge underlying all the others, will be inclusion. But who do we mean when we talk about inclusion? “Young people, but also anyone who is no longer young yet needs reskilling and reintegration into formal training”.
The keyword for this first challenge is: adaptability. A single word, Bentivogli explains, that “should not be confused with ‘precariousness’ or lack of professional specificity”. In fact, the opposite is true: “the range of skills itself is expanding and must be able to evolve at the same rate as technologies are developing”. What should be done? Realigning the mismatch between “technological innovation that has shifted into fourth gear” and “vocational training that is barely in second gear”.
Technology is like the water in which we’re all swimming
In this realignment, we need to recalibrate our (mis)idea of a technology that ‘steals’ or, even worse, ‘erases’ our jobs.
Technology is like the water in which we’re all swimming. In fact, Bentivogli continues, “we cannot stop the water flowing with our hands, nor can we afford to waste precious time in useless and harmful discussions that have little to do with real life and the needs of workers”.
We should think about augmented humanity: centred on the unique aspects of our being women and men.
“First and foremost, then, you have to decide for yourself whether you want to be inside or outside reality. The risk is leaving someone behind: the weakest”.
Augmented humanity: the future of technology
When we talk about digital transformation and innovation, however, we must remember, Bentivogli points out, that we must not look at individual innovations, but at innovation in the system.
Innovation, in the world of work, is a set of many incremental innovations capable of designing “a living space whose human factor develops in quantity and quality. In this sense, I mean an experience, our experience, which can become “augmented humanity”: more autonomous, free, creative, more focused and developed on the unique aspects of our being women and men”. An inclusive humanity capable of actively designing the human future of technology.
Narrating a fresh innovation
To innovate, however, you have to narrate. We can halt this decline by relearning “to say ‘work’ and the words of work, if we want to create new words and find a reciprocal relationship with it”.
Today, in fact, “work suffers because there is a lack of new grand narratives that find a common denominator for all human activities related to it. The narrative of work that has prevailed over the last century and a half is fast fading. We imagine and idealise (also for lack of memory) the work of the peasant civilisation and the big factory of the past. This is also why we need to talk about the work that gives dignity to life and makes us flourish fully”. Innovation, inclusion and sustainability can only become the real keys to change through this prism.
Workitects, the architects of work
The latest challenge, the one that connects all the others, concerns design as a way of co-designing the future of work.
Recently, explains the head of Base Italia, “I’ve been called a workitect and that’s what I think we need to do: rethinking and designing new industrial, social and economic labour architectures”.
Meaning, feeling and direction: these are the issues which must be addressed when redesigning work.
Everything starts not only from old and new experiences in our lives, but above all from a deep reflection on the meaning of work. How can we recover ‘sense’ in this transitional phase?
“There are three solid definitions of the word ‘sense’: meaning, feeling and direction. These are also the junctures that should be addressed to not only remap the sense of work but also start rethinking it. Work is an ethical and spiritual experience in our lives“. We should not deprive ourselves of it.
The task ahead of us, concludes the coordinator of Base Italia, entails helping rewrite the vocabulary of work and its practices. Green, tech, sustainable, inclusive. In a nutshell: human, for everyone.