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Events Coverage

CEO Breakfast in Warsaw looks at future needs of Poland’s labour force in light of workplace automation

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Workplace issues surrounding the introduction of technology were discussed at a CEO Breakfast held in the Sheraton Hotel Warsaw on 21 September 2018.

Workplace issues surrounding the introduction of technology were discussed at a CEO Breakfast held in the Sheraton Hotel Warsaw on 21 September 2018. Senior executives from BPCC member firms met to look to the future and consider the effects that new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced robotics will have on the labour market. As at the CEO Breakfast held in Kraków the previous week, the premise underlying the discussion is the question whether the jobs displaced by technology will be made up for by falling demographic trends – or will those demographic effects exacerbate a skills miss-match.

Bringing together a panel of practitioners to consider the issues, two potential scenarios emerged. The panellists were Jarosław Czaja, founder and CEO of Future Processing, Artur Skiba, president of the board and CEO of Antal, and Przemysław Roth, director of operations, IAG Global Business Services.

Mr Roth, who had previously headed Rolls-Royce in Poland, explained how in manufacturing and in services, automation was displacing the more basic functions in the workplace. Looking at India, he said that each month, some 20,000 service-centre jobs were disappearing as AI takes over simpler tasks.

Mr Czaja agreed that AI will be able to do more than humans. He looked at AI’s ability to interpret images. Individual radiologists may be able to analyse thousands of images during their careers; an AI system can look at tens of millions, and providing the system has been taught what to look for, it can quickly become more accurate at screening than human experts.

Jobs – that remain – will prove to be more fulfilling, suggested Mr Skiba, who said that the mundane tasks will be first to be automated, leaving employees more time to focus on the tasks that require human intervention and analysis. The labour market expert emphasised that business need a clear and meaningful purpose to attract and retain employees, customers and partners in the decade ahead.

There was a big debate on the government’s role in shaping an education system – primary, secondary and tertiary. A need for the four key ministries – Education, Science & Higher Education, Digitisation and Enterprise & Technology – to work together would be crucial if Poland were to continue catching up with the world’s most advanced economies. Businesses should link up with local vocational schools and universities (in particular universities of technology) to have some input into the curriculum. This tends to differ across Poland, said Mr Roth, citing different experiences with different universities. Unless Polish schools and universities are providing graduates equipped with the skills employers will need in five, ten years’ time, the Polish labour market may not be able to meet the demand of a higher value-added economy.

Poland’s current education system, emphasising a five-year Master’s degree rather than a three-year Bachelor’s course, was criticised. Mr Czaja said that most programmers that Future Processing employed already had most of the critical maths skills needed for coding early on, and the two additional years spent gaining a Master’s degree would be better spent working in business, acquiring practical experience.

Whereas rote learning is needed in the primary and secondary levels, by the time young people get to university they need to be able to think critically and solve problems, rather than merely memorise the words of their professors.

Elżbieta Pełka, founder and general manager of Pełka Creative, and founder of the Polish National Sales Awards, spoke about the future of the sales industry, where ethical practice will become a key differentiator in a world where algorithms connect consumer needs to goods and services. The human aspects of sales, the soft skills associated with listening to customer concerns, will also need to be developed to a higher level.

The breakfast event ended with the opportunity for participants to have one-to-one discussions among themselves and share insights about the issues covered.

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