Last modified on June 24, 2024

Digital Transformation in Transport: Co-Creating Policies for Workforce Adaptation

24 June 2024

In 2020, the European Commission issued a challenge by publishing the Horizon 2020 call MG-2-14-2020: The effects of automation on the transport labour force, future working conditions and skills requirements. The WE-TRANSFORM project took up this challenge by proposing an action-oriented policy agenda to prepare for the transition to digitisation and automation and the related transformation of the transport workforce.

The policy agenda has been built following a bottom-up approach, involving more than 600 stakeholders, including workers, that interacted, discussing the challenges that digitalisation and automation are posing and will pose on the workforce and co-creating policies to address this major challenge.

Eleven policies constitute the agenda that clearly shows that a paradigm shift is needed in companies if we need to have a satisfied and properly trained workforce, which is the basis for any economic and wealth growth. Today, companies are grappling with work environments that do not satisfy workers and are not ready to accommodate the digital transition without potential disadvantages for workers.

The co-created agenda was validated through the input of all stakeholders and workers involved in the workshops held in several EU and non-EU countries (United States and South Korea). The agenda clearly shows the desire of all stakeholders involved to have a more harmonised approach and a European context, understanding – despite the fear of losing individual sovereignty – that only a coherent framework among European countries would achieve the critical mass to face global competition and maintain Europe’s technological progress against the big American and Asian players.

The agenda covers all modes of transport: road, rail, air, maritime, logistics. as well as all forms of institutional organisations (private, public, semi-public companies). It is divided into a number of Thematic Areas, which were used to define the impacts of digitalisation and automation on transport workforce and also to find out the related legal impacts. The four thematic areas were used as the context to categorise the policies proposed to address the emerging issues digitalisation and automation pose on the workforce. The thematic areas are:

1.  Public governance and regulation.

2.  Industrial governance.

3.  Training and reskilling.

4.  Minimisation of labour exclusion and exploitation.

The policies were discussed to define their specific contents, how they should be implemented, when they should be implemented, and who should take the responsibility for them in terms of implementation and potential funding. The proposed policies are correlated and integrated, as shown in Figure 1, highlighting how it is impossible to disregard one from the other and how implementation can be simplified by proposing common actions that cut across several policies.

Figure 1: The structure of the policy agenda: a lever to preserve and develop the competitiveness of European companies and, at the same time, improve social cohesion within and between EU countries

All eleven policies were considered to be very urgent, stating that it is necessary to start defining and implementing them now, knowing that their complexity and the difficulty of changing the current paradigm would certainly require time, considering a time frame of 2-3 years, knowing that the implementation of some policies might take longer, implying a cultural change. The same applies to the policy no 1, which may require the adjustment of the EU wide legislation by the national governments.

The project shows the importance of driving negotiated change during a transition process that must mobilise all stakeholders. Automation is not an end in itself, and it is important to remember that the aim of the proposed policy agenda is to preserve the competitiveness of European transport companies (regardless the mode of transport) for the benefit of both customers and industry, while at the same time seeking to improve working conditions of professionals (e.g., by easing the arduousness of certain tasks, identifying critical skills, not excluding anyone, etc.). Furthermore, the values shared by European countries require that maintaining competitiveness does not come at the expense of human and social aspects: a good transition is also a just transition.

Article written by Cristina Pronello, WE-TRANSFORM project coordinator