Q&A  | 

Santiago García

“In the knowledge economy, learning is work and work is learning”

Tags: 'Future of work' 'Futuro del trabajo'


Reading Time: 4 minutes

Santiago García is the co-founder of the Future for Work Institute, an independent observatory born to help companies to detect and explore emerging trends in the world of work and people management. He also leads the Iberian chapter of the iOpener Institute, and he is lecturer and guest professor at different universities.

Today, 29% of work tasks are performed by machines. What new jobs do you think will appear as a result of this changing workforce?

A few decades ago we could hardly imagine the diversity of the jobs that are being created as a consequence of technological innovations. Of course, the most obvious ones are those directly related to the design and use of new technological solutions: data scientists, mobile app developers, machine learning experts, robotics engineers, algorithm trainers, cybersecurity officers, etc.

But still, in my opinion the biggest change does not come from these newly created jobs but from the increase in the demand of the so-called ‘hybrid jobs’. This term refers to the fact that more and more companies are looking for employees with combinations of skills that go out of the ordinary (or that can even be perceived as conflicting).

This phenomenon is the result of technological advances that cause an increase in the complexity of jobs, that now require a greater diversity of skills, even if they keep the same job title. We can find examples in the many positions for which companies now require data science knowledge in addition to the competencies they traditionally required for those jobs. The good news is that those rare combinations of skills put those ‘hybrid jobs’ among the best paid and most difficult to automate jobs of the labour market.

54% of all employees will need training in new skills during the next 5 years. How can workers and companies adapt to these new requirements?

According to a study by the World Economic Forum, what many companies do when technology changes and their people do not have the skills they need to carry out new tasks is to hire new workers who possess the relevant skills. Second, they explore the possibility of automating those tasks. Only in the third place they choose to retrain their employees in the new capacities they need for the new ways of working.

However, the growing imbalances between supply and demand in the labor market will force companies to make the reskilling of their employees one of their priorities, as finding the right talent in the market becomes more and more difficult.

In parallel, workers need to understand that in a changing environment they need to take care of their employability and invest in their training, without waiting for their company to take the initiative. In short, both of them, workers and companies, need to understand that in the knowledge economy, learning is work and work is learning.

People are living longer. How can we ensure elderly professionals can keep up with the pace demanded by the market and the new industries?

The idea that older professionals are not as curious or as interested in learning new things as their younger colleagues is a stereotype. In Future for Work Institute we have carried out two studies, one on curiosity at work and another on how workers face work automation, which reveal the truth behind this cliché. What we observed in both studies is that workers’ curiosity and their orientation to learning objectives has nothing to do with their age.

Yet, what we discovered is that the interest in anticipating and preparing for the future of work negatively correlates with how long the person has worked in the same company.


Therefore, the challenge for companies is to create the context so that the curiosity of their people and their interest in learning new things does not go away as they accumulate years in the company. Additionally, it is also important that companies stop discriminatory practices by age, or that older people are the first to be fired when a company has to reduce its number of employees. Just take a look at what happens in Spain, where although the population is rapidly aging employment rate is still plummeting among people aged 55 and over.

How do you see the gig and sharing economies evolving? Is adapting to these new platform based, disruptive models or working as a freelancer the key to the future of work?

As new forms of work are emerging in the labor market more and more people are using these forms of work to get the income they need to live. However, I do not think we are close to the end of salaried jobs as we know it today.

What we will see will be a greater diversity of work formats and people using different combinations of these formats to make a living.

It is important to highlight that under the label of ‘platform work’ we find very different realities from home delivery ‘raiders’ to highly demanded ‘digital nomads’ that can work on the projects they want, when they want and from where they want. From my perspective, the main challenge here is to provide the people who work under those new formats, especially the less favored categories, with sufficient protection without eliminating the flexibility these formulas provide to them and their clients, as well as the potential of these new work formats to integrate disadvantaged groups (e.g. refugees) in the labor market.

Large parts of Silicon Valley support the idea of a UBI (Universal Basic Income) as an inevitable part of the AI revolution. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of having a UBI?

This is a very debated topic.

If that basic income should be universal or only given to certain segments of the population that meet certain conditions, if the incentives to look for a job will decrease in case the recipients of the income are unemployed, how the system would be funded, etc.

The experiments that have been carried out with the universal basic income are not conclusive either.  For instance, the basic income experiment carried out in Finland between 2017 and 2018, a period in which a group of 2,000 unemployed received 560 euros per month, regardless of whether they had other income or not. On the one hand, there is no statistically significant difference between the people who received the income and the control group as regards employment. They were no more likely to find a job, they worked the same hours, and earned practically the same, once discounted their earnings from the basic income. But still, it seems they obtained other types of benefits. During the period in which they received the basic income, people in the test group experienced significantly fewer problems related to health, stress and ability to concentrate than those in the control group. They were also considerably more confident in their own future and their ability to influence societal issues than the control group. In any case, what is clear is that we will need to articulate mechanisms to protect the groups less favored by the changes the world of work is experiencing.