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DFS Voices: How to ensure a universal access to a digitized labor market, with Dessirée Garcia


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"The labor market is a round and the laws, a square"

Dessirée Garcia is Head of the Training and Employment Programme of Cáritas Barcelona, which, among its activities to support people at risk of marginalisation, offers professional orientation services for the citizens to get job opportunities. Current director of the Postgraduate course in Job Orientation and Insertion at the Pere Tarrés Foundation, she is former councilor at the Badalona City Council, and Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Labour of the Catalan Government. She finds her passion in managing and promoting cutting-edge projects related with the labor market transformation.

In your LinkedIn profile, you confess that “promoting projects that could transform people’s lives and stop inequalities from amplifying” is what excites you the most. Which role is technology playing in this social transformation that you promote from Cáritas Barcelona?

For us, technology is clearly not a purpose itself but a tool that must allow us to bring people closer. But like everything else, if misused, it might generate distance. The lockdown and the pandemic have greatly accelerated this awareness, especially in a sector such as the social, in which we consider that face-to-face, one-on-one, is essential. We have seen a closed public Administration under lock and key, with an administrative bureaucracy through technology that further multiplied the already hard face-to-face bureaucracies. That, for those in a vulnerable situation, with no access to the devices, data nor the skills, has meant a great estrangement.

From Cáritas Barcelona, you offer professional orientation services so that everyone could get a job opportunity. How essential are digital skills in the job search?

Let’s not forget that we have reached such levels of inequality during lockdown that the people who could not work from home, because their skills did not allow them to, were the ones that risked their health by going to cover sick leave people. Not everyone has access to this hybrid, to this possibility, already in their own workplace. To apply to that job, those who wanted to cover those dismissals as cashiers in supermarkets had to do an interview online. This, again, from night to day, from one day to the next and without prior notification. Actually, something that was previously valued as an extra has now become a requirement.

What would be the solution, then?

There must be a massive digital literacy plan, as was done at the time with traditional reading and writing. And in the same way, there has to be access to devices, to data. People know that they should not miss the boat, therefore, we also have the involvement of those who are clearly affected. The most clear example: I want to be a shelf-filling and to apply because there are vacancies or dismissals, and I get to do an online interview.

What challenges is technology posing for the labor market, specially for vulnerable groups that you usually work with after the pandemic?

The labor market and labor relations are changing, and we still have a legislation for a labor relations framework based on industrialization and the post-industrial society of the 20th century. Right now the market is a round and there are some laws that are a square. It is a matter of saying: “We have to continue protecting labor rights, but to adapt them” to the new times, to telemigrants. Does that mean that you have to be connected permanently? No, one should be guaranteed their right to disconnection, to holidays, to rest, to workplace risk prevention. But this must be considered.

Training plays a big role of the access to digitization as well. If you are trained, you can access digitization, maybe you can even telecommute and choose the company. The challenge, really, is to stop using technology as a tool to divide, distance, and split society in two between those who are very high and very low, because what it really allows us is bringing everyone closer. That is where we do not see will.

Which role does the third social sector play before that lack of will?

We think that there is no better awareness than demonstrating by doing. Just as we gave financial aid to public transport at that time, because there were people who lived far away and could not even afford that, now part of the financial aid is to upload data, so that they can move virtually. We do not feel like we are doing work that others aren’t. First, that work is necessary and, secondly, helps us to prove that if there is will, it could be done; and also that in the end all of us are people, with papers, without them, and therefore we all have rights, and that right to accompaniment, when trying to get overcome a bad situation. Because in the end, it could happen to any of us.

Regarding digital transformation in social, is Barcelona on the right track?

If we do not open up to the green, blue economy, all the colors that we are bringing out now, to new, more sustainable productive sectors, which can even offer better quality jobs, Barcelona, like any other city, will be left behind. It is a model bet, and that is where I often see that administrations are not in favor of collaboration. It is a serious mistake, because we lose efficiency and, above all, we harm the citizenry, which after all is supposed to be those who work for. Tourism is fine, the service sector is fine, ocean liners are fine, cruise ships are fine... All that is fine, we do not have to remove anything, but we must put new layers, because in the end, if not, we will once again create a giant with feet of clay, as happened with the building sector back in 2008, when the perfect storm came together, and now we have it again. It is time to really commit to diversifying and, above all, in productive activities that are much more sustainable, that have social responsibility, with greater added value and that, in the end, allow generation of quality employment. The challenge is there for Barcelona, and digitization and mechanization are inherent.