Reflections from the Social Safety Nets panel at Davos by Alain Dehaze.

It is not always easy to keep your balance when everything is changing around you. But that is the task facing governments, businesses and individuals given the relentless change of the fourth industrial age.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in the world of work, where social, economic and technological developments are completely redefining the concept of work.

What do I mean by balance? It means being able to embrace the potential of the digital age in a way that empowers the entire workforce.

While change opens up new horizons for work, such as the platform and gig economies, it also poses some big challenges. How do we protect and support our workforce through this great transformation, and beyond? While the need for flexibility increases - caused by uncertainty, volatility, innovation, and technology - the need for security doesn’t fade away. Quite the contrary: in our view, security will be more important than ever before. It is this question of balance that will define whether or not the fourth industrial age works for the many, or just the few.

As such, it was appropriate to be able to discuss the issue of social safety nets at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. Political and business leaders have a responsibility to act. As our economies demand more and more flexibility and new skills, we must guarantee secure, stable working lives for everyone. Our call to the Davos stakeholders and beyond is to transition from the known concept of job security to the more sustainable concept of work security.

In our rich conversation, various scenarios were brought to the table.

  • We touched on Flexicurity, pioneered by the Danish government in the 1990s, as it still offers a solution. Rather than accepting that flexibility automatically means insecurity for workers, flexicurity shows us that – with a little policy help – flexibility and security can complement each other, like two sides of the same coin.

But as we bring online talent platforms into the scope of our conversation, we need to think further.

  • Providing security to flexible workers, such as freelancers, is top of mind for the Adecco Group. We need to create social benefits models that are portable, transferable, and tailored to the individual. With YOSS the Group is applying the two sides of the coin to the world of freelancers.

  • Any conversation on the future of social safety nets also needs to touch on bringing upskilling and reskilling initiatives into sharper focus. Skilling should be an investment, not a cost. And the best security safety net an individual has is his or her own employability. Employability has become the new currency of the world of work. If workers do not have the right skills, we will face a growing skills gap and, worse, the risk of higher unemployment.

  • The Davos conversations show that Governments are still years away from bringing their education systems in line with a world of work in flux. As the Chair of the Global Apprenticeship Network, I do not tire to highlight the benefits of work-readiness programs, based on tailoring skills-curricula, meeting the needs of businesses, providing the young workers with the instruments needed to build their “skills baggage”, and thus guaranteeing their current and future security.

    One conclusion appears clear to me: in the future of work, flexibility and security are the two sides of the same coin and together they build a promising model for the future. A model that brings the individual to centre stage, irrelevant of the specificities of each labour market.