The White Paper on Employment in the Basque Country

Challenges and proposals for the society that will be

The history of humankind is a succession of challenges, crises and solutions, a cyclical process through which our society has been defined. And the 21st century is no different: it is an era of change. In the face of uncertainty, it is necessary to set a course that will lead us into the future. This is especially true considering the never-before-seen scale and speed of the disruption and the changes that we are experiencing presently.

The disruptive nature of these changes stems from the fact that three major transitions are currently taking place simultaneously. The first is a demographic transition: we are living longer than ever before, and in better conditions. This is, of course, a reflection of great success in economic and social development. We are, however, also facing a notable drop in the birth rate. The combination of both phenomena underlines the viability of our welfare system, as well as intergenerational equity. The second transition, of a technological nature, is caused by the acceleration in the development of computing technologies, the internet, and artificial intelligence. These changes reflect an enormous opportunity to increase prosperity and well-being, but they also mean that we run the risk of generating imbalances that lead to growing inequalities. Finally, there is the climate transition, which must be addressed through international agreements that imply significant changes to our economic system.

These three transitions affect multiple dimensions of our society. In the field of employment, they require a change in the paradigm, since the impact on labor is immediate and far-reaching: The aging population produces disruption in the demographics of the region’s workforce. Technological change significantly affects the demand for certain professional profiles. Climate change requires the production of goods and services via cleaner production processes. To the extent that employment is a fundamental instrument of social inclusion and human development, and consequently, a thermometer of its social well-being, it is necessary to reflect on the future of employment, and to create public policies that are aimed at increasing employment, and making better jobs.

The ISEAK Foundation, a research and knowledge transfer center in the field of economics, in collaboration with the Department of Labor and Employment of the Basque Government, has created the White Paper on Employment in the Basque Country. This work is a reflection, based on contrasted analysis of scientific evidence, on how to address the forthcoming revolutionary process. By relying on our knowledge, it is possible to manage the needs that our society is coming to face. What’s more, we can use this knowledge to take advantage of opportunities that appear along the way, considering the inclusion of people that currently face greater difficulties with integration in the workplace – women, young people, immigrants, the over 45s, and people with functional diversity.

The White Paper on Employment in the Basque Country is defined by two elements:

Firstly, there is an overview of how the demographic, technological and climatic transitions are affecting the most developed societies, with a special emphasis on Basque society. Areas where imbalances that may occur in the field of employment are identified and addressed.

Secondly, there are numerous proposals that serve as a framework for reflection that will allow us to continue promoting a Basque agenda for inclusive prosperity, combining two objectives: increasing productivity, and correcting growing inequalities. Given the challenges posed, public policies in the field of employment need to promote activities that:

(i) strengthen access to high-quality public services and prepare citizens for participation in the labor market,

(ii) promote the generation of a greater number of “good jobs” in the economy, and

(iii) provide protection for citizens, and guarantee social and laboral participation of those groups facing the greatest difficulties.

The included proposals are based on the following principals:

(i) equal opportunities,

(ii) the pursuit of opportunities created by the transition for more employment and better jobs,

(iii) the construction of an economy of “good jobs”, and

(iv) social inclusion, including the articulation of redistributive mechanisms that combat situations of exclusion generated by the malfunctioning of markets.

Among the proposals made in the white paper, possibly the most innovative are those that reimagine industrial policy from an employment perspective. Incentives for innovation and new technologies have not, until now, had the creation of good jobs as a principal goal. Considering the employment perspective, however, redirects industrial policy and rewards those technologies that both increase productivity and improve the quantity and quality of employment (called “brilliant” technologies), rather than (“mediocre” technologies), which increase capital without practically increasing productivity, and negatively affect employment.

The moment chosen for the elaboration of this study is particularly relevant, since there is no better time than now to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the transitions in which the world is immersed to build a society which is fairer, more equal, and more equitable. The proposals form the basis for a future of inclusive and sustainable growth, and of shared prosperity in the Basque Country. The design, details, and implementation will require a broad debate, with the participation of all parts of Basque society. From ISEAK and the Department of Labor and Employment, we hope to contribute to this process with the creation of this White Paper.